Neck pain is common and can be debilitating. But pain, by definition, is subjective, and unfortunately many long term disability insurance companies will deny or terminate disability claims for lack of objective evidence of this disabling condition. Fortunately, you can “quantify” your neck pain and therefore leave a trail of objective evidence.
What causes neck pain?
Neck pain has many potential causes, some of which are difficult to pinpoint. Commonly, neck muscles can become strained from poor posture or repetitive activities. If you hold a cell phone in the crook of your neck while hunching over your computer often enough, you may develop a constant pain in the neck. Neck pain can also result from accidents, degenerative disc disease, pinched nerves, herniated discs, spinal stenosis, arthritis and osteoporosis, among many other causes.
How is neck pain debilitating?
Neck pain can range from trivial to crippling, and whether it’s constant or intermittent, it can interfere with work or activities of daily living. Neck pain can limit range of motion, making it impossible to drive or perform work-related tasks. The pain can radiate to other parts of the body, sometimes causing numbness in the arms and hands, hampering the ability of dentists and surgeons, for example, as well as many other professionals and much of our workforce on computers these days –workers who constantly use their hands in their work.
What insurance companies might say
Insurance companies discredit long term disability claims based on neck pain in a variety of ways. They may dispute the level of pain, citing a lack of physical evidence on imaging studies. They may also pick apart medical records, emphasizing words like “improved” and “feels better” in doctors’ notes while ignoring terms like “chronic” and “degenerative.” Insurance companies sometimes point to a lack of prescriptions for heavy painkillers as an indication that the patient’s suffering is minor and does not rise to disabling proportions. Some even resort to video surveillance, trying to “catch” people being able-bodied. We had one client who lost his disability insurance because he was filmed lifting a six-pack of soft drinks from a shopping cart and placing it in his front seat.
Documenting the pain
No one but you can feel your pain, but a trail of documents can help get the message across to those who question the veracity of your statements. You can start by keeping a pain diary, detailing your pain each day and how it impacts your work and activities of daily living. Meet with and follow up regularly with an appropriate specialist(s), such as an orthopedist, neurologist or pain management doctor. Bring your diary along and discuss your pain in detail with your doctors, asking them to document your symptoms in your medical chart.
Identify co-workers, friends and family members who can compare your abilities before and after the onset of your disabling neck pain. For instance, “Steve and I used to play golf together every weekend, but now he can’t even swing a club.” Of course, there is no substitute for your doctor’s clinical evaluations, which often provide objective correlation of your neck pain and related symptoms.
Get an MRI, X-ray or needle EMG if possible. These studies may provide “objective evidence” of an underlying condition that is likely to be causing your pain. Keep in mind, however, that while these tests can help corroborate your story, they do not on their own paint the entire picture of the pain you are feeling. Two people with a herniated disc picked up on an MRI, for instance, may report vastly different levels of pain.
Show a good-faith effort to treat the pain
By regularly seeing a specialist, you demonstrate that you are actively involved in seeking a resolution to your pain. Follow your physician’s advice, whether this means attending physical therapy sessions or taking all prescribed medications. Include in your pain diary whether you took medication, did prescribed exercises or made other attempts to mitigate the pain each day. Keep in mind that insurance companies will likely check to see that you have filled your prescriptions.
We can help
If your long term disability claim has been denied, terminated, or is being challenged based on a lack of objective evidence to support your claim, give us a call. We understand your pain, and we have the experience and knowledge to handle disability insurance companies who wrongfully challenge such claims. Contact us today for a free consultation and let our experienced team assist you.
Evan S. Schwartz
Founder of Schwartz, Conroy & Hack