Chronic pain in Los Angeles and Van Nuys Social Security disability cases

In my practice as a Van Nuys Social Security attorney, I frequently encounter claimants who suffer from chronic pain. Chronic pain is pain that persists. It may be constant or intermittent, but it does not go away.

Although chronic pain can be disabling, pain cases present an obvious difficulty. Pain cannot be seen or measured scientifically, so it is difficult to prove. Your credibility is vitally important in persuading the Social Security Administration that your pain prevents you from working.

The Social Security Administration evaluates pain in two steps.

  • First, objective evidence must show that you have a “medically determinable impairment” that could reasonably be expected to cause your pain.
  • If you satisfy the first step, Social Security decision makers then consider the intensity and persistence of your pain and whether it limits your ability to do basic work activities.

Objective evidence of a medically determinable impairment

A medically determinable impairment is an impairment caused by anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities. Objective evidence is evidence obtained through medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. In other words, you must have a condition that can be established by medical examinations and medical tests that is capable of causing the pain you complain of.

Merely claiming you suffer from pain is not enough to prove you are disabled. No matter how true your pain complaints are, unless medical signs and laboratory findings show you have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce the pain, you will not be approved for benefits.

Intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of pain

If you satisfy the first step, the Social Security Administration next evaluates the intensity and persistence of your pain to determine how it limits your capacity for work.

Each of these factors is relevant:

  • Your daily activities.
  • The location, duration, frequency, and intensity of your pain.
  • What causes or aggravates your pain.
  • The medications you take or have taken to treat your pain, including the type, dosage, effectiveness and side effects.
  • Treatment, other than medication, you receive or have received for your pain.
  • Other steps you taken or have taken to relieve your pain (e.g., lying flat on your back, standing for 15 to 20 minutes every hour, sleeping on a board, etc.); and
  • Other factors concerning your functional limitations and restrictions due to your pain.

All evidence should be considered including your history and medical findings, and statements from you, your treating or examining doctors, and other persons about how your pain affects you. The Social Security Administration is required to take into account any limitations you have that you, your treating or examining doctors, or other persons report that are consistent with the evidence.

Medical evidence for some conditions, such as back pain and arthritis, sometimes corresponds poorly to symptoms. The Social Security decision maker may not reject your statements about the intensity and persistence of your pain or how it impacts your ability to work just because your pain is more severe than expected considering the medical evidence. If your statements are credible, the decision maker should accept them.


Your credibility means the extent to which Social Security decision makers will believe you are telling the truth. Two important factors that increase the credibility of your statements about your pain are:

  • The consistency of your statements; and
  • Your history of seeking and following treatment for your pain.


The more consistent your statements are with each other and with other information in your case record, the better. The Social Security Administration decision maker will examine all your statements about your pain that are in your case record. You doctor may have written down statements you made about your pain. You may have mentioned your pain in forms and questionnaires that you filled out during the application process for disability benefits. Even statements you made in connection with claims for other types of disability benefits may be in your case record. And you will testify about your pain at your disability hearing. Social Security Administration decision makers will compare all these statements to see whether you have told the same story about your pain.

The decision makers will also compare your statements to reports and observations of other persons concerning your daily activities, behavior, and efforts to work. This includes any observations recorded by Social Security Administration employees.

If you have made inconsistent statements about your pain, Social Security decision makers may still believe you if you have a reasonable explanation for the inconsistency. For example, pain can fluctuate over time and medication and treatments that once worked may stop working.

Treatment for pain

Social Security decision makers will be more inclined to believe you suffer from severe pain if you have gone to your doctor to get treatment for your pain and then followed the treatment. Continuing attempts to obtain pain relief, such as by consulting pain specialists, and trying different medications, or treatments to find one that works enhance the credibility of your pain complaints.

Your complaints of severe chronic pain will be less believable if you have not attempted to get medical treatment or if you have not followed the prescribed treatment and you don’t have a good explanation for these failures.

Knowledgeable Van Nuys Social Security lawyer offers assistance with your chronic pain case

If you live in the San Fernando Valley or elsewhere in Southern California, and believe you are disabled by chronic pain, I would be happy to evaluate your case. If you are not already represented by a Van Nuys Social Security attorney, give me a brief description of your claim using the form to the right. Or you may contact me at:

The Law Office of Patricia L. McCabe
Van Nuys California Social Security attorney
Representing disabled individuals throughout Southern California

Contact me

7100 Hayvenhurst Avenue
Suite 314
Van Nuys, California 91406-3804