Chronic pain may qualify for Social Security disability benefits

Chronic pain is a significant problem that can severely impair your ability to work. However, sometimes pain can be a difficult thing to prove. Different people who have the same medical diagnosis may experience different amounts of pain. As a result, establishing that your pain makes you unable to work so that you qualify for Social Security disability benefits can be a complicated process.

The three steps to proving to the Social Security Administration that your pain is a qualifying impairment

If your claim for Social Security disability benefits is based on chronic pain, there are three things that we need to establish:

  • First: You have a medically determinable impairment.
  • Second: That impairment is capable of causing the pain that you are experiencing.
  • Third: The pain that you are experiencing limits your residual functional capacity so that you are unable to work.

The first two steps require medical opinion evidence from doctors. The third step can be shown by a combination of objective medical evidence and subjective evidence through testimony from you and your witnesses.

Eleven factors that the Social Security Administration uses to assess your residual functional capacity

In the third step of the process of determining whether chronic pain qualifies as an impairment that requires disability benefits, the Social Security Administration evaluates whether the pain imposes such a limitation on your residual functional capacity that you are unable to work.A Social Security Administration regulation provides the following list of items that should be considered in this evaluation:

  1. Your medical history.
  2. Medical signs and laboratory findings.
  3. The effects of treatment that you have received.
  4. Reports of your daily activities.
  5. Non-medical evidence about your condition.
  6. Recorded observations about your condition.
  7. Medical source statements.
  8. The effects of your pain that can be attributed to a medically determinable impairment.
  9. Evidence from your attempts to work.
  10. Your need for a structured living environment.
  11. Any work evaluations that you have.

Your credibility is important subjective evidence about your chronic pain

When it looks at the extent of your limitations from chronic pain the Social Security Administration has to make a determination about your credibility. Part of the evidence that you are unable to work comes from your own statements about your pain, so the Social Security Administration’s evaluation of how believable you are becomes an important part of its evaluation of whether or not your pain really does make you unable to work.When it considers whether your testimony is credible, the Social Security Administration asks the following types of questions:

  • What medical evidence is there about the intensity and persistence of your pain?
  • Does your medical treatment history show that you have been persistent in your attempts to obtain relief of the pain?
  • Do the things that you say to the Social Security Administration about your pain match such things as:
    • the medical signs and laboratory findings in your medical file?
    • statements that you have made in other circumstances?
    • other information in your file, such as other people’s reports about your activities and efforts to work?
  • What did the Social Security medical consultants and other physicians say about your impairment?
  • Do the Social Security Administration personnel think that you look like you are in pain when they talk to you?

You can get help from a knowledgeable San Diego Social Security disability lawyer

If your disability is primarily based on pain symptoms, and you are not already represented by a California disability lawyer, consider contacting me for an evaluation of your claim. Fill out the form to your right, or contact usSan Diego Social Security lawyerE-mail


  • We accept California Social Security disability cases at all stages. If you are thinking about applying for disability benefits or have had your application denied, please answer the questions below if you would like us to review your case. Asterisks(*) indicate required fields.

Areas Served:

We handle California Social Security disability claims for claimants from San Diego and nearby areas, including these counties and cities:


Imperial, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego.


Imperial County: Brawley, Calexico, and El Centro.
Orange County: Anaheim, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Habra, Laguna Niguel, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, Orange, Santa Ana, Tustin, Westminster, and Yorba Linda.
Riverside County: Corona, Hemet, Moreno Valley, Palm Desert, Palm Springs, Riverside, and Temecula.
San Diego County: Carlsbad, Chula Vista, El Cajon, Encinitas, Escondido, La Mesa, National City, Oceanside, Poway, Ramona, San Diego, San Marcos, Santee, and Vista.

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