How Do You Prove Pain in a Social Security and SSI Disability Claim?


When we ask people what stops them from working, the most common reason is pain. As anyone who has experienced it knows, severe pain takes over every corner of your life, hindering physical ability, interfering with concentration and stamina, and causing fatigue. Many people with conditions as diverse as Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Fibromylagia, migraines and lumbar disc disease are in this situation.

In order to prove pain in a Social Security and SSI disability claim, the severity and impact of pain is often the most critical element in winning a case.

As common as pain is as a symptom, it cannot be objectively measured. It can be very difficult to convince Social Security that a claimant is disabled on this basis alone. However, Social Security has a rule (Social Security Ruling 96-7p) which sets standards that decision-makers must follow when a claimant tells them that pain is a factor in disability.

The rule cautions that before any complaints of pain can be considered there must be an underlying condition – medical signs and laboratory findings establishing that the person has a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment” which could be expected to cause some degree of the pain. Chronic pain of unknown origin simply cannot be the basis for a disability finding.

Assuming an underlying diagnosis can be established, the rule states that the decision- maker must carefully consider all allegations of pain. The severity of the person’s pain must be determined and the impact of the pain on ability to function must be assessed.

The rule also makes the important point that a person’s level of pain may be greater than is suggested by the objective medical evidence alone, and that the person’s statements about pain, even though subjective, must be carefully considered along with the medical information in the file. Your credibility is key.

In deciding what to accept from your statements about pain, the decision-maker must determine if the testimony is consistent with the medical reports, treatment notes, and evidence of your activities.

Often there are psychological factors such as reactive depression or posttraumatic stress involved in pain cases. These can affect your pain tolerance. In some cases, you may have a somatoform disorder, converting psychological problems into very genuine pain.

There are multiple factors at work in pain cases. In order for a claim to be successful, they all must be fully developed and documented. If you need assistance proving pain in a Social Security or SSI disability claim, contact us for help in developing this essential evidence.

Further Resources:

International Association for the Study of Pain – IASP is the world’s largest multidisciplinary organization focused specifically on pain research and treatment.

Keeping A Pain Journal – This is critical for helping your case.