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Will refusing surgery affect my disability claim?
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I have had spinal stenosis and the pain that goes along with it for over a year now and a new specialist I just saw told me that I need to have a spinal Fusion at L-4,5 and L-5,S-1 and remove two damaged discs.

I have been reading all these posts about how very few if any of you that have had the surgery are getting along any better.

My first claim was denied just a few days before my second MRI was viewed by this Specialist and I am concerned that if I refuse the Surgery I will have problems getting my claim approved the second time.

I have a lawyer and I plan on posing this same quiestion to them, But I was wondering if anyone has had this experience before?
Posted on 12/26/10, 10:22 pm
18 Replies | Most Recent Add Your Advice
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Reply #1 - 12/26/10  11:59pm
" Hey Dan...let me know what you find out from the attorney

I am not under the impression that you have to choose surgery...but I definately think that they will want to know "Why don't you want to get better?".

I have severe stenosis at L3-4 & L4-5, I also have DDD and bulging discs at the stenosis levels. The neurosurgeon wants to have me submit for a decompression surgery and I have refused.
My stenosis is related to severe arthritis...which is degenerative and is throughout my spine. If I could have the surgery and know that I would fix the actual cause of the problem I would do so...but a surgery for me would be only to potentially solve some of the leg and possibly back pain.

A back surgery from my understanding from other MD's and my own research is about a 50/50 ...when the back problem causes significant issues, surgeons are willing to risk it to attempt to alleviate the problems....again, if I could risk it to cure the issue...I would.

At this time, I have refused surgery and I also refuse the ESI injections....not willing to risk it and I would rather learn to manage my pain. My arthritis will continue to grow and change my spine and I will continue to have further issues...eventually full wheel chair bound regardless of the surgery I refused now.

What ever you decide...only make the decision that you are comfortable with, not out of pressure from any other entity. Take Care! "
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Reply #2 - 12/27/10  12:13am
" Thanks for the reply Superduck...This is more about not wanting the pain to get worse and preserve what little mobility I have left. I do want to get better, but from what I have read, Multi level Fusion surgery is not always the best choice and causes more problems than it solves. The Specialist said that there is no gaurentee that it will get better. I guess I need more than that...LOL. I'll let you know what the lawyer says... "
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Reply #3 - 12/27/10  7:31am
" Dan

My issues are mostly related to my neck, I do have low back pain but afraid to check it out. I imagine it does sound a bit gloomy for some of us. But you are you and so...you have to make that decision.

It is true that sometimes surgery does'nt not fix everything. I do know from experiencce that sometimes issues with your back can lead to spinal cord problems. You do not want that, no sir. About the disability - I can't help you there. However we are about the same age and it's hard to make that decision. But there have been success stories and I hope they come out of the woodwork for you here.

I will keep you in my prayers and hope that God leads you to the right decision.

Terri "
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Reply #4 - 12/27/10  8:40am
" Hi again Dan :-)

I hope you don't think that I was accusing you of not wanting to get better...I was saying that I think SS would be asking you that question and that you needed to be able to explain to them what your reasons are.

I have seen the same information that you have seen about fusions etc. It is again about a 50/50 shot that the surgery will go in your favor and without complications. Almost everyone I have talked to and the MD's I have talked to say that is is very probable that the sites above and below the fusion become unstable and further surgeries are required. Also, the probability of FBS is always very real.

Like I said...be comfortable in your decision and know you made the best choice for you...and yes, please let me know what your attorney says. HUGS "
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Reply #5 - 12/27/10  9:36am
" Good Morning Terri and Superduck... I hope you are all doing well. I so Appreciate your encouragement and advice and thanks for the Hugs! Hugs Back! It seems that Complications not only exist in the medical conditions but in whatever decisions we make along the way right?

Not to worry Superduck, I totally understand what you meant, and I guess thats the reason for the question. I figured that they will question my reasons. I guess I need to get some good defencive arguments together.

I too was told that any surgery is only a potential pain relief option, but your right Terri, we certainly don't want to have spinal cord injuries or problems. With these conditions I will never be able to go back to landscaping, and I don't have any training as a desk Jocky..LOL. Everything I used to operate has become automated. Thats the biggest cause of all our back pain to begin with.

If I knew there was a job out there I could do (and in this economy) I would do it. I am way too active for this problem, but I certainly don't want to make it worse by over doing things. I have climbed a lot of ladders and been knocked off because of Automation and Shut downs... This is how I got here. Most jobs are manual labor anymore.

I will post again after finding out what the lawyer says. Thanks for your help!
Dan "
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Reply #6 - 12/27/10  9:41am
" I really don't think they will deny your disability just because you chose not to have surgery. You still have the same issues you had before the doctor suggested surgery. Just because you don't want surgery doesn't mean that you don't want to get better. Surgery almost ALWAYS causes more problems!

Talk to your attorney about this, but i don't think it's going to make any difference. God bless. Hugs, Lee "
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Reply #7 - 12/27/10  12:35pm
" Hi Dan!

I'm not an attorney and I know that SS can be very unpredictable in their decisions- I think it just depends on the examiner handling your case. I know some people fight for years- I thought that, at 26, I would have no chance of being approved... but I applied by myself (no lawyer) for SSI and my initial application was approved. Do I think my problems are more severe than those of some people who are denied? No. I think it's just the luck of the draw sometimes... and bombarding them with medical records helps (I gave them every doc I'd seen since I was 14). It's such a stressful process and one where you question everything you're doing medically. I know I wondered about every choice I was making... I had had about ten sets of shots in my lower back in the year that I applied for SSI, and I had just started refusing to have any more because my pain was getting progressively worse after each "procedure" (and staying that way) and I was beginning to not trust my doctor. I can't tell you much I agonized over whether or not to keep having the shots until my application process was done with. In the end, I had to do what I knew was best for MY HEALTH, not my financial situation (although those two things are definitely linked, so the choices are tough).

As to your specific question, I absolutely have personally seen social security deny someone's disability claim because they refused surgery. Again though, this may just be the luck of the draw, and it is just ONE little anecdote relating to a different disabling condition. One of my cousins, who is about your age, applied for disability a few years back... she had pretty severe carpal-tunnel and could no longer do any of the jobs for which she was qualified (all office work) or anything that involved her hands, for that matter. Well, she refused to have surgery for the carpal tunnel as her doctors were recommending. And she had good reason- she had had HORRENDOUS past experiences with surgeries... she almost died during a c-section when she had her only child. Then she had another surgery later in life during which she almost bled to death. All of these were "routine" procedures, but not for her. She never wanted another surgery, nor did she truly believe the surgery would improve her pain. So that was the choice she made that was best for HER, that she could live with. However, SS then decided that she didn't qualify to receive any disability benefits if she was choosing not to do what was recommended for her "treatable condition." They could easily say the same thing to you.... you never know. My cousin went fought this for a long time and was continually denied. Eventually, she filed suit against them for trying to force her to have a surgery- something that should be her choice- and then denying her when she WAS disabled. After a long court battle, she did win her lawsuit and started receiving benefits.

As I said, that's just one anecdote... and perhaps surgery for carpal tunnel has a more reliable success rate than back surgeries. I imagine that is the case since back surgeries seem to be pretty much hit or miss. So you may have no problem. I certainly would NOT choose to have a surgery you don't believe in just to get disability benefits. Make the right choice for your health. Don't let them make that decision for you.

One thing I would recommend, however, would be to see another neurosurgeon. Preferably a very reputable one at a well-known university medical center... and get a second opinion on surgery. If you have another doctor saying that surgery is NOT recommended, that could help with your claim... if he doesn't say that, well, just don't mention him to disability. ;) I saw a neurosurgeon who was the head of neurosurgery at a local ivy league medical center... I figured I couldn't get a better opinion than that. My condition is very similar to yours... I would need a fusion in the same places, but I have a few complicating issues beyond disc herniations/degeneration and stenosis. The surgeon told me that he would absolutely NEVER operate on me. He said the chance of success with those types of surgeries is about 30% and that it was with every condition being optimal (patient being in perfect shape, strong, not overweight, not on too many meds, etc) and with the surgery proceeding flawlessly. Since those things are unlikely, the success rate becomes even lower than 30%. He did tell me that if I looked hard enough, I'd find some surgeon at a second-rate hospital who WOULD operate, but that it would be the biggest mistake of my life. This particular doctor shared with me that he'd had a woman kill herself after a failed back surgery because she still had so much pain and now was trying to regain mobility and recuperate as well. Because she had a history of addiction, they were hesitant to manage her pain... she eventually took her life after year of no improvement after surgery. He told me this to make it clear to me that I should NOT take the decision to have a back surgery lightly. I did get a second opinion (it as the same), but I took what he said very seriously.

My point is- don't make such a potentially life-altering decision to please the SSA.... you never know what they will do or how they'll view your information anyway. Apply again and see what happens... but I'd try to get a second opinion recommending against surgery.

I wish you all the best, Dan! I've been going through this since I was 19 (eight years), so I know what a tough road it can be. Good luck! "
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Reply #8 - 12/28/10  4:06pm
" I have DDD with sciatica and osteoarthritis of the entire spine. I was approved for SSI on my first atempt with a good lawyer and no previous surgery or treatments other than pain meds and seeing three different doctors to diagnose me with the exact same thing. A good lawyer makes all the difference. "
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Reply #9 - 12/29/10  12:20am
" Thanks everybody for your kind advice. I am thinking I may have problems with my lawyer. Thet havn't got back to me and my patience is wearing thin. I have a letter ready to go in case they don't respond tomorrow. Time to put the crap aside...lol.

I hope everybody is feeling good tonight, I'm hanging in there. I'm going to do some oil painting to take my mind off of the pain.

Good therapy.

I will let you all know what the deal with the lawyer is...Night! "
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Reply #10 - 12/29/10  1:07am
" I tried for ssi disablity after Breast cancer and was denied told I could do mimal work.I'm a nurse so I went back to work and injuried my back.I have a W/C Atty. that never talks to me either.I'm thinking about talking to an Atty for ssi. Even though W/C will send me back to work in a wheel chair if they could. Unemployement is another joke I have to pay when I work I'll never see. Good luck and let us know what happens. "

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