Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts for three months or more, beyond the expected range of recovery for a specific illness or injury. A 2015 National Institutes of Health study reported that 11% percent of people in the U.S. (more than 25 million) experienced pain every day for the three prior months. Other estimates go as high as 100 million people who are suffering from chronic pain. These people don’t only suffer from pain. They suffer from a wide range of symptoms and limitations to their every day lives. It can have wide-ranging effects on a person’s ability to engage in daily activities and even work. Because of this, many people ask: “Is chronic pain a disability?” The answer: it depends.

Is chronic pain a disability? 

When people ask about disability for chronic pain, they’re generally referring to Social Security disability claims or workplace accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA). The short answer is that for Social Security benefits, chronic pain itself is not a defined category of disability. However, many conditions that lead to chronic pain are defined as disabilities, such as inflammatory arthritis, spinal disorders, peripheral neuropathy, and systemic lupus. Further, many chronic pain sufferers do qualify for benefits based on their functional limitations, as we’ll discuss in more detail below. The ADA does not contain a list of defined conditions that constitute a disability, but rather a definition of disability and impairments that a person must meet to qualify. Some people with chronic pain will meet these definitions, others won’t.

Disability claims are complicated, as we’ll discuss. Many times they rely on multiple visits with your doctor over a long period of time. It can be difficult to measure something as subjective and personal as pain and how it affects a person’s daily life. Because of this, it’s important that you gather as much information as possible before applying for benefits.

For example, a person with fibromyalgia may have troubles concentrating or remembering important information. Someone who suffers from arthritis may not be able to use a mouse and keyboard. A person with back pain may suffer from severe depression. Up to 50% of all chronic pain sufferers may battle depression, in fact. Again, chronic pain doesn’t only cause pain.

Who can help?

While applying for Social Security benefits, most people recommend working directly with a disability attorney to oversee your case. Since this is such a complicated area, an attorney can help you file the right forms and gather the right information for your case. They’ll also be able to guide you on the best way to frame your application.

For ADA accommodations, you’ll likely have to work closely with your company’s Human Resources team to create the best plan moving forward. Oftentimes, accommodations are arrived at that are a collaboration between employee and company.

Who qualifies for Social Security disability for chronic pain?

The Social Security Administration maintains a list of impairments that may qualify for disability benefits. You can see the full list of adult impairments here. Chronic pain as a singular condition is not listed within this criteria. However, other chronic pain related conditions are. These conditions include: