Man holding hurt back

Chronic pain is an invisible disability. It doesn’t leave physical scars, but its relentless presence can significantly impact every aspect of your life. If you’re seeking Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits due to chronic pain, effectively describing its impact at your disability hearing is critical.

At Tabak Law, we understand the challenge of translating the searing, throbbing, or dull ache that consumes your daily life into words that resonate with a judge unfamiliar with your specific experience. This blog post will equip you with strategies to effectively describe your pain during your disability hearing, strengthening your case for benefits.

Why Describing Pain Matters

The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates your eligibility for benefits based on your residual functional capacity (RFC). This refers to your ability to perform daily activities and work despite your limitations. Pain is a significant factor in determining your RFC.

However, pain is subjective. There’s no objective measure to quantify its intensity. Therefore, effectively describing your pain is crucial to convince the judge of its severity and its impact on your functional abilities.

Read More: What do You Need From Your Doctor to Qualify for SSDI?

Effective Strategies for Describing Pain

Here are some key strategies to effectively describe your pain at your disability hearing:

Use vivid language. Don’t simply say “It hurts.” Use descriptive language that paints a picture for the judge. Is your pain sharp and stabbing? Throbbing and relentless? Burning like fire? Specific and evocative language creates a more impactful picture.

Compare and contrast. Explain how your life with pain compares to your life before your condition. Did you used to be an avid hiker, but now even walking short distances leaves you in agony? Before, could you easily lift heavy objects, but now pain makes gripping a coffee mug unbearable? Highlighting this decline helps emphasize the severity of your pain.

Focus on location and duration. Pinpoint the location(s) of your pain and describe its duration. Does it radiate throughout your body, or is it concentrated in specific joints? Is it constant, or does it come and go in unpredictable waves? Providing these details helps the judge understand the scope and unpredictability of your pain.

Explain the impact on daily activities. Don’t just describe the pain itself, but explain how it affects your ability to perform daily tasks. Does pain limit your ability to dress, bathe, or cook? Does it force you to take frequent breaks while cleaning or standing for extended periods? Connecting the dots between pain and limitations strengthens your case.

Use a pain scale (cautiously). Consider using a pain scale (0-10) to quantify the intensity of your pain at different points of the day. However, avoid focusing solely on numerical values. Use them alongside descriptive language to provide a more comprehensive picture

Here are some examples of how to implement these strategies:

  • Example 1: The pain in my knees is like a constant, dull ache that intensifies with any activity. Before my arthritis, I could easily climb stairs, but now even walking a few blocks leaves me in so much pain that I need to sit down and rest.
  • Example 2: The migraines I experience are like a jackhammer pounding in my head, accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light. During an attack, I’m completely incapacitated and unable to perform any tasks until the pain subsides, which can take hours.
  • Example 3: The burning pain in my hands makes it difficult to grip objects. Simple tasks like holding a fork or buttoning my shirt become incredibly challenging and often leave me frustrated.

How do You Explain Daily Activities at a Disability Hearing?

Supporting Your Testimony

While your description is crucial, backing it up with concrete evidence strengthens your case. Here’s what can help:

  • Medical Records—Detailed medical records from your doctor documenting your pain diagnosis, treatment plan, and the impact of pain on your functioning are vital. Highlight entries that describe the severity and frequency of your pain episodes.
  • Imaging Scans—If you have X-rays, MRIs, or other imaging studies that show damage or abnormalities contributing to your pain, include them in your evidence.
  • Pain Journals—Maintaining a pain journal for several weeks before the hearing allows you to track the location, intensity, and duration of your pain episodes. This provides a valuable record of your pain patterns and strengthens your testimony.
  • Doctor’s Notes—If your doctor has documented specific limitations caused by your pain in your medical records, highlight those sections during the hearing.

Remember to provide copies of all supporting evidence to the judge and opposing counsel before the hearing.

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