Are shoulder problems a big deal in a Social Security Disability claim?

Thursday, 23 February 2017 11: 55
Written by Joni B. Bailey

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"If I have shoulder problems, will that impact my Social Security Disability Insurance claim?"  In order to answer this question, let’s look at how the Social Security Disability Insurance rules and regulations categorize work.

Every Social Security Disability claim will involve an analysis of the claimant’s past work, because a claimant who can still perform his or her past relevant work is not “disabled.”

Work is broken down into categories by exertion (think of that as strength) and skill (how long it takes a person to master the job).

The exertion categories are: 

Limits of Weights Lifted/Carried or Force Exerted by Strength Level (in pounds)






* to 10




* to 20

* to 10



20 to 50

10 to 25

* to 10


50 to 100

25 to 50

10 to 20

Very Heavy




Skills are categorized by SVP (specific vocational preparation) level:




Short demonstration only.


Anything beyond short demonstration up to and including 1 month.


Over 1 month up to and including 3 months.


Over 3 months up to and including 6 months.


Over 6 months up to and including 1 year.


Over 1 year up to and including 2 years.


Over 2 years up to and including 4 years.


Over 4 years up to and including 10 years.


Over 10 years.


Jobs fall in one of three basic skill categories:

  • Unskilled
  • Semiskilled (Generally SVP of 3 or 4)
  • Skilled

What does this have to do with shoulder problems?

IF a person’s past work requires effective use of the hands and arms AND that person has an impairment that interferes with effective reaching and handling, pushing and pulling, lifting and carrying THEN that person might not be able to perform his or her last job.

If a person cannot perform his or her last job, the question becomes whether he or she can perform another job.  In order to answer that question, the analysis takes into account past work, current age, and skills.  Learn more about Social Security's sequential evaluation process here.

Light, medium, and heavy work require effective use of the hands and arms:

Light, medium, and heavy jobs require use of arms and hands to grasp and to hold and turn objects.

LIGHT WORK requires frequent* lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. A job is also in this category when it involves sitting most of the time but with some pushing and pulling of arm-hand or leg-foot controls, which require greater exertion than in sedentary work.

MEDIUM WORK requires frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds.  

HEAVY WORK requires constant lifting/pushing/pulling of 20+ pounds and frequent lifting and carrying of up 50+ pounds.

*"Frequent" means occurring from one-third to two-thirds of the time.

What if I have problems with only one of my shoulders?

The judge will ask a vocational expert to identify jobs that exist in the national economy (not your home town) that a person can do with limitations in one upper extremity (arm) but not both.

The vocational expert will generally identify a substantial number of jobs that a person with one good arm and one impaired arm can do in the sedentary or light category.

  • 10 pound objects can usually be manipulated with one arm while using the affected arm to assist.
  • 25 pound objects are much harder to manipulate with one arm while using the affected arm to assist. (Not everything is shaped like a free weight at the gym!)
  • 50 pound objects – you don’t need an expert to tell you that manipulating objects this heavy cannot be done effectively on a frequent basis with one good arm.

Does age make a difference?

If your disability  began after your 55th birthday AND your past work was medium or heavy AND you are now limited to sedentary or light work, you will probably win your claim UNLESS you have skills from your past work that make it possible for you to perform another similar occupation with very little training.  For more on this topic, see my article, Why Are The Rules Different for Disability Claimants Over 50?

How do I prove I cannot perform medium or heavy work?

You prove your claim by helping the Social Security Administration get medical records from your doctors and other healthcare professionals.

The judge or adjudicator will look at the objective medical evidence AND the opinions of doctors and other care providers.  Based on ALL of the evidence, a determination will be made about your residual functional capacity (RFC). 

Does the Social Security Administration get opinions from their doctors?

Yes.  That is why your claim was denied.  The opinions from the consultative examiners and medical consultants supported a decision that you were not disabled.

How do I get an opinion from my doctor?

The adjudicator will probably send a form to your doctor; your doctor will probably ignore it.  You can ask your doctor for an opinion, but it might not satisfy the adjudicator or judge because it is not supported by medical evidence or consistent with the other evidence. 

An experienced Southern Illinois Social Security Disability representative works with every client to develop opinion evidence from the claimant’s doctors.

Joni Beth Bailey is a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability attorney.

social security disability lawyer in murphysboro, il

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