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SSDI for Fibromyalgia Patients More Accessible

“But you look so good!”

Normally, this might be a compliment. To someone with fibromyalgia, it feels like an attempt to discredit the very real pain and debilitation of an illness that is all but invisible to the outside world.
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Our Boston Social Security Disability Insurance attorneys know that for many years, those who suffered with this disease often did so in silence. They were told the pain was in their mind, that they simply needed to be stronger.

With the 2013 Fibromyalgia Awareness Day slated for May 12, we must take a moment to be proud of the fact that we have come a long way since the days when physicians dismissed it as a psychological problem or a “wastebasket diagnosis,” due to the fact that there are no objective findings by way of imaging, laboratory or physical exam that can definitively provide a diagnosis.

That doesn’t make it any less real, and doctors are more apt today to recognize it.

Yet we still have a long way to go and this includes the arena of SSDI benefits.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that some 5 million Americans suffer from this disease, with most diagnosed in middle age. In many cases, the intensity of the condition prohibits sufferers from being able to continue working. However, there is still a great gap in understanding this disease, which means getting disability benefits is often a struggle.

This is a disease for which symptoms include:

  • Widespread pain;
  • Extreme fatigue and loss of sleep;
  • Numbness and tingling in the feet and hands;
  • Intense headaches;
  • Irritable bowel syndrome;
  • Difficulty remembering and thinking;
  • Depression.

Part of the problem with obtaining help for those suffering is that the symptoms mirror so many other possible conditions. Even getting a diagnosis can be an achievement. But it is the first step.

The Social Security Administration has no disability listing for fibromyalgia. However, very recently (last summer) the administration issued a ruling providing guidance to claims examiners and administrative law judges on how to handle cases in which fibromyalgia was the central diagnosis.

It used to be that unless fibromyalgia was accompanied by the confirmation of some other debilitating condition – such as degenerative disc disease or arthritis – disability examiners gave little weight to the claim. Part of this had to do with the fact that doctors were routinely handing out the diagnosis when they encountered these symptoms and had no other explanation. It was considered a “catch-all.”

But as the medical community has become more educated about fibromyalgia, this is happening less and less. One of the ways you can avoid having your diagnosis discredited is to have it come from a rheumatologist or orthopedist, as opposed to your family doctor. Having paperwork affirming the diagnosis from both certainly won’t hurt.

The recent administrative ruling on the issue directs disability examiners and judges to depend on the criteria as set forth by the American College of Rheumatology when determining whether to approve a disability claim for fibromyalgia. Those standards include:

  • Evidence of widespread and severe pain in the chest, back or neck;
  • Evidence that other diseases have been ruled out by your doctor;
  • Tender point sites in at least 11 of 18 areas of the body;
  • Repeated manifestations of symptoms, signs or conditions that typically occur with fibromyalgia.


If you are considering filing for SSDI in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:
Fibromyalgia Awareness Day 2013, Press Release, National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association
More Blog Entries:
Our Boston SSDI Lawyers Are Committed to Helping You Win, April 27, 2013, Boston Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog