Living with fibromyalgia can make every day a challenge. Chronic pain and severe exhaustion are the two most common symptoms. However, people who suffer from the condition often experience other symptoms, like depression, headaches, memory loss, sleep disturbances, irritable bowel syndrome, and more. These can make it very difficult to go to work every day, which leaves many people wondering, “Is fibromyalgia a disability?” Depending on the situation, it can be, but it comes with some caveats. Read on for details about fibromyalgia disability benefits you may qualify for and how to apply for them.
Is fibromyalgia a disability?
When people ask if fibromyalgia is considered a disability, they’re typically referring to workplace accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Social Security disability claims. Not that this post should not be taken as legal advice, as it only scratches the surface of what you should know when it comes to benefits, work status, and qualifications. You can read more about chronic pain and disability benefits here.
The ADA doesn’t maintain a list of medical conditions that constitute a disability. Instead, there is a general definition of disability that you must meet. According to the ADA, you must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This includes people who have a record of impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability, but are regarded as having a disability.
The Social Security Administration (SSA), on the other hand, defines a disability as “a severe “medically determinable impairment,” also known as an MDI. We’ll discuss what qualifies as an MDI in further detail below.
Based on this information, the short answer is yes, fibromyalgia can be a disability in the way it affects your everyday life. But as for applying for and receiving Social Security benefits or ADA modifications, the answer will be based on factors related to your personal symptoms and overall health condition. While one person with fibromyalgia may be suffering with debilitating symptoms, another may find work and other daily activities more manageable. Fibromyalgia is a condition that can vary greatly from person to person, so the answer to the original question is also unique to that person.
Can you work if you have fibromyalgia?
Depending on the severity of your condition and the work you do, it may or may not be possible to work. Many people with fibromyalgia experience extreme tenderness when pressure is applied to the knees, thighs, hips, elbows, and neck.
For this reason, it is best to do a job that doesn’t require you to stay in one position for too long. Both standing and sitting for extended amounts of time can lead to more pain. Further, any job that requires heavy lifting or intense physical movement may also be too demanding in most cases.
If you wish to continue working, work with the Human Resources contact at your for the best methods on how to accommodate your fibromyalgia symptoms. Through ADA guidelines and recommendations, HR can work with you to offer several ways to make you more comfortable while you’re at work.
- Alternative lighting, flexible scheduling, or a modified break schedule for attentiveness/concentration issues
- Appropriate time off for treatments
- Chairs with head support, standing desks, or stand-lean stools for daily movement
- Reducing any physical requirements of the job
- Counseling, therapy, or even a support animal for stress management
- Walkers, scooters, or wheelchairs, as needed
This is just a sample of the many options that could allow you to continue working. Your HR team will determine the best solution on a case-by-case basis.
In order to make your condition best understood, you’ll need to provide a full explanation of your current diagnosis, symptoms, treatments, and limitations from your doctor. This documentation should be similar to what you’d provide in an application for disability.
Do fibromyalgia patients get disability benefits through Social Security?
The Social Security Administration maintains a list of adult impairments that may qualify for disability benefits. Unfortunately, fibromyalgia isn’t included. While it is one of the harder disability claims to win, it isn’t impossible. In order to qualify, you must prove to medical examiners that you’re suffering from a severe “medically determinable impairment,” also known as an MDI.
Social Security may consider fibromyalgia an MDI if both of these are true:
- You have evidence of widespread chronic pain that has lasted at least three months
- Laboratory testing, MRIs, and X-rays have ruled out other possible conditions
In addition, one of these must be present in your case:
- Ongoing occurrence of at least six fibromyalgia symptoms, such as fatigue, cognitive/memory issues (also known as fibro fog), waking up exhausted, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and anxiety
- Positive tender point sites in at least 11 of 18 tested areas, above and below the waist and on both sides of the body
It’s important to note that even if you meet these requirements, you will still have to prove that you’re disabled. That means documenting reasons why you’re incapable of maintaining employment in any capacity, whether at your previous job or any other job.
How to apply for fibromyalgia disability benefits
The process of applying for fibromyalgia disability benefits is complex. Even if you are formally diagnosed, there are a number of factors you must be able to prove in order to qualify. This usually takes multiple visits with your doctor over a long period of time.
The following gives a brief overview of what you can expect, but it’s best to work with an attorney who is experienced with disability claims. They can give you exact guidance about how to apply for and receive benefits appropriate to your case.
Here’s what you can expect to do during the process.
Document your case
The more documentation you can gather about your medical history, the better your application will be. First, a confirmed diagnosis will be necessary. Due to the nature of fibromyalgia, which typically has no confirmed cause, doctors often diagnose it when they can’t find any other cause of your ongoing pain. This is why it’s important to have a specialist diagnose you based on lab tests and the current fibromyalgia diagnostic criteria.
Furthermore, a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) about your impairments is necessary for a thorough application. This is an overall evaluation of your capacity to complete certain job-related activities, including your ability to:
- Lift or carry weight, and how often you’re able to do so
- Stand, walk, or sit during a normal eight-hour work day, and how long you’re able to do so
- Climb stairs, kneel, crouch, or crawl
- Use fine motor skills (such as typing or using a computer mouse)
- Reach for objects, especially those overhead
- See, hear, and speak clearly
- Withstand environmental conditions, such as extreme cold or heat, smells, and noise
Gather supporting information
In addition to a formal application, your diagnosis, and an RFC, there may be a few other things that will be critical to your success. You may need to include: