October 14, 2014

Can I get Social Security disability benefits if I have problems using my hands?

In my Indiana Social Security disability law practice, I see a very wide variety of disabling conditions.  Many of my clients have conditions that affect  their overall physical ability to work; that is, those clients are unable to sit, stand, and walk

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long enough in combination to complete an eight-hour work day.  Others, though, have impairments that affect specific areas of functioning.  For example, some of my clients have impairments that limit their ability to use their hands.   Even if you can sit or stand for an entire work day without difficulty, the inability to use your hands to pick things up, handle small parts, or manipulate objects might seriously limit the kinds of work you can perform.  In my experience almost all work requires at least the occasional use of  the worker’s hands.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes this limitation, and many times my clients who are significantly limited in the use of their hands are found disabled based on that limitation.

Many types of medical problems may cause a person to lose full use of his hands, including arthritis, neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, or amputation, to name a few.  If you have problems with your hands, Social Security evaluates your ability to work based on your ability to perform the following types of movements:

  • Reaching: extending your hands and arms in any direction
  • Handling: seizing, holding, grasping, turning, or otherwise performing movements that require you to use your whole hand
  • Fingering: picking, pinching, or otherwise performing movements with your fingers

If you have difficulties writing, typing, buttoning, zipping, or keeping your grip on things you are holding in your hands, you would likely have difficulty performing work activities that require you to reach, handle, and finger.  These limitations are usually magnified if you have to use your hands for any repetitive movements as well.

If you have a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the judge will likely take testimony from a Vocational Expert (VE).    The VE will classify the work you have done in the past based on the physical and mental abilities those jobs required.  The VE will also advise the ALJ about the types and numbers of jobs available in the national and local economy for workers who have different combinations of limitations.  In my experience, for claimants who can rarely or even only occasionally use their hands, especially their dominant hand, the number of jobs available to them is greatly diminished.  Under Social Security’s rules, if the ALJ finds that significant numbers of jobs do not exist for people with a claimant’s limitations, the claimant is disabled.

In any type of Social Security disability case, good medical records can greatly enhance your chances of winning your claim. If you are limited in using your hands, objective medical testing such as x-rays, MRIs, or nerve conduction studies can help to prove that your symptoms are caused by a medically determinable impairment.  Statements from your treating physicians explaining the type and severity of the limitations caused by your impairments can also help support your disability claim.

In my experience, most of my clients are disabled because of a combination of impairments as opposed to a single type of limitation.  Even if you have one impairment that you believe is disabling on its own, it is important to let the SSA and your Social Security disability attorney or representative know about all of your impairments.

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