In Canada, neck and cervical disorders are one of the leading causes of disability from the workplace. This is because a majority of workers experience neck pain either due to their occupation or from everyday movements like bending and lifting. However, since it is so prevalent, claims are often denied. We wrote this article to help you avoid that outcome. Keep reading to learn the secrets to winning disability benefits for neck and cervical disorders.
This article is part of our series looking at medical conditions and disability benefits.
- Disability From Neck and Cervical Disorders: You Are Not Alone
- Why It’s Important to Apply for Disability Benefits for Neck and Cervical Disorders
- Types of Disability Benefits for Neck and Cervical Disorders
- How to Win Disability Benefits for Neck and Cervical Disorders
- Denied Disability Benefits for Neck and Cervical Disorders: What You Can Do
- Next Step – Get Your Free Books
Disability From Neck and Cervical Disorders: You Are Not Alone
Neck and cervical disorders are not ordinary neck pains. They are usually attributed to cervical disc degeneration. The cervical vertebrae in the spine are made up of discs that act as shock absorbers for the body. These deteriorate over time, leading to compressed nerve roots between the discs. Because these nerves run through the spinal cord, you will feel weakness or numbness from your shoulders down to your arms and hands. This radiating pain is the main symptom of cervical radiculopathy, which is a condition that occurs when there is a pinched nerve in the neck or near the spine. Such disorders can also be linked to whiplash injuries, arthritis, meningitis, and some forms of cancer.
Common types of cervical disorders:
- Cervical spondylosis is extremely common in older adults. In fact, more than 85% of people over the age of 60 are affected by it. The condition occurs when cartilage and vertebrae wear out over time, usually due to age-related wear and tear. Symptoms usually include pain and stiffness in the neck. However, many people don’t show any symptoms at all.
- A cervical herniated disc occurs when the gel-like center of a spinal disc ruptures. It may result in arm pain, numbness or tingling.
- Degenerative disc disease happens when discs between the vertebrae break down. Symptoms include neck and back pain, and in more severe cases, it can cause weakness, numbness, and hot shooting pains in the arms or legs.
- Cervical spinal stenosis is characterized by narrowing the spinal canal and/or the spinal nerve root passages in the neck. When this narrowing occurs, your spinal cord and/or nerves may become compressed and cause symptoms such as pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in your neck, shoulders, and extremities.
- Cervical myelopathy occurs as a result of compression of the spinal cord in the neck. Symptoms may include problems with fine motor skills, pain or stiffness in the neck, balance issues, and difficulty walking.
- Cervical radiculopathy, also known as “pinched nerve,” occurs when a nerve in the neck is compressed or irritated. Symptoms can include muscle weakness, numbness, and pain in the shoulder and arms.
Treatment for neck and cervical disorders
Over-the-counter pain medicine is a common treatment for neck and cervical disorders. Your doctor can also prescribe painkillers that contain steroids or narcotics. A physical therapist will be able to relieve your pain and restore mobility through exercises and the manipulation of muscles. Surgery is an option if your disc disease has already become serious. The main procedure is a discectomy, which involves replacing a deteriorating disc with a new metal one.
Why It’s Important to Apply for Disability Benefits for Neck and Cervical Disorders
Most employers and benefits providers misunderstand the impact of the neck and cervical disease on a person’s ability to work. This is especially true if you work in a sedentary position. Anyone suffering from the condition will find sitting for a long time painful. There is also a loss of control over arm movements making it difficult to write or type on a computer.
If your condition has progressed to this level, then it is sensible to apply for disability benefits as your ability to perform work has become restricted. Continuing to work might also aggravate your disorder and cause further damage. It is important to present evidence that you are unable to perform tasks that are crucial to your occupation and that it would be impossible for you to find any other type of work in the long term.
Types of Disability Benefits for Neck and Cervical Disorders
There are two sources of disability benefits for Canadian workers with neck and cervical disorders: the Canada Pension Plan and Long-Term Disability Insurance Benefits.
CPP disability benefits for neck and cervical disorders
The Canadian government mandates that employers are required to deduct Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contributions from the salary of their employees. The CPP is a retirement pension, but unknown to many employees, other benefits are also payable under the plan, including survivor, post-retirement, and disability benefits. The last type begins when an individual becomes disabled before the retirement age of 60 or 65 years old. Anyone who has “a severe and prolonged disability” and is considered a recent contributor to the CPP can qualify for benefits. The CPP administration defines a “recent contributor” as someone who has contributed to the CPP in four of the last six years or three of the last six years if he or she has contributed for at least 25 years.
There are two types of disability benefits under the CPP. One goes to the disabled worker. While the other goes to their children. Those who are approved for CPP disability benefits would receive a taxable monthly payment.
Long-Term Disability Insurance for neck and cervical disorders
Another common type of disability benefits plan in Canada is an insurance-based disability plan. Insurance protects individuals from the risk of accidentally losing the ability to earn income. As such, many workers have group disability insurance policies as part of their employee benefits packages. This means that member employees were insured as part of a group with a common sponsor, usually an employer, professional organization, union or bank. The sponsor buys the policy from an insurance company for the benefit of the group’s members. The coverage can be short-term or long-term, depending on the benefits.
There are also individual disability policies sold to professionals or self-employed business people. These are bought directly from an insurance broker, and the coverage continues as long as the monthly premiums are paid.
For long-term disability benefits, the employee can become eligible for monthly income payments during long absences from work. These payments are computed as a percentage of the worker’s salary, a specific monthly amount, or a combination of the two. These amounts are specified in the insurance policy, along with the maximum period of time that the benefits will be received.
How to Win Disability Benefits for Neck and Cervical Disorders
Applying for disability benefits from the CPP or insurance companies is a long and difficult process. There are also challenges that are unique to claims due to neck and cervical disorders. That is why it is crucial to recognize the nature of your condition and the way benefits providers think.
1. Provide objective evidence and medical test results
In order to diagnose your neck disorder, your doctor will need to take a look at your medical history. You can help your physician with this by keeping a journal that details the occurrence and type of neck pains you experience, along with other symptoms related to your condition. However, your own records are not enough on their own. This data should be reflected in your doctor’s medical records to be admissible as evidence in a benefits claim. It should also be backed up by medical test results.
The following are some of the common tests used to diagnose neck and cervical conditions:
- A neurological exam tests arm movement, strength, and reflexes to determine if there is an abnormality in the nervous system.
- A nerve conduction study (NCS)/ nerve conduction velocity test is used to measure the speed of conduction of an electrical charge through a nerve to find out if it is damaged.
- Pain injections, though often considered as treatment, can also be used in diagnosis to locate the source of pain. These include discography, medial blocks, and selective nerve root blocks.
- An x-ray will be able to show any degeneration, fractures, or infection in the bones of the cervical spine.
- Computer Assisted Tomography (CAT scans) are more intensive than x-rays and can show the soft tissues between the cervical discs.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can show any abnormalities in the discs, soft tissues, and nerves. Sometimes, this test is enough to diagnose neck and cervical disorders definitively.
2. Credibility is key
It is your responsibility to prove that you are suffering from a disability that is making it difficult to earn income. Simply asserting that you have a chronic stiff neck will not suffice, especially when the tests above do not show conclusive results. Such a case will be a challenge to win since your credibility becomes the key issue.
You must understand that insurance providers can dedicate a lot of resources, time, and money to deny a claim. For instance, it is not uncommon for them to secretly hire private investigators to record you in everyday life. In addition, they may monitor your social media accounts. Be aware of any photos, posts or comments that might give rise to suspicion.
- Contradicting medical records or earlier statements
- Making excuses or blaming others for problems
- Criticizing other parties in the claim (even if they deserve it)
- Filing complaints against professionals you see as negative, biased, or unprofessional
- Using aggressive, sarcastic, or confrontational tones in your claim or testimony
- Blocking or stalling reasonable requests for information
- Fighting with doctors over your diagnosis instead of focusing on the disability
- Acting like a medical expert
- Making sure what you say matches the medical records
- Taking responsibility for errors or problems with your claim (not blaming others)
- Being cooperative and respectful of everyone in the claim
- Accepting expert advice and opinions
- Making good faith efforts to try all reasonable advice, even if you disagree with it
- Obvious efforts to keep working
3. Get the appropriate treatment and document it
Benefits providers would present to you the terms of their agreement to approve your claim. This varies between companies, but they usually include medical recommendations you must follow to continue receiving benefits payments. It might involve a certain number of physical therapy sessions or prescribed treatments to prevent further disc degeneration. You must show that you are trying to get better and return to work as soon as possible.
Companies might ask for regular reports from their doctor or conduct follow-up calls. You should comply with any requests. This is because once the insurance company suspects you are misrepresenting your claim or not following medical orders, they could terminate your benefits without prior notice.
4. Evidence of work-related limitations
You will also want to record all the ways in which you have modified your work habits in order to maintain employment while dealing with neck disorders.
You should try easier jobs within your workplace before you apply. Until you do, the disability benefits providers will always doubt you. You might show that while your job had medium duties on paper, your employer made accommodations to qualify your duties as light.
If you were forced to change jobs as a result of your condition, make a note of that too.
Denied Disability Benefits for Neck and Cervical Disorders: What You Can Do
So, you’ve filled out all the forms and submitted as much evidence as you can find. Then, a few weeks later, you receive a rejection letter denying you the right to disability benefits. This means that you must go back to work despite greatly suffering from your condition.
This is devastating news and only adds to the pain that your disorder is already causing you. Fortunately, you don’t have to simply accept the rejection and bear your burdens for the rest of your life. You can still appeal the decision of either Service Canada or your insurance company.
Download our books if you want to learn about your options after a denial.
Still, feeling unsure about your disability claim? Sometimes a quick call with us can answer your concerns and help you move forward with confidence. Call us now at (888) 732-0470 for a free consultation, or click here to schedule online.