One of the areas that Social Security often misses, especially early on in the application process, is limitations of the hands. Social Security staffers and adjudicators are used to measuring a person’s ability to sit, stand, walk, lift and carry, but the use of the hands is often overlooked, especially if the cause is not immediately obvious.
There are a lot of diseases that can impact the ability to use the hands. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is probably the most well-known, but there are plenty of other impairments that have a direct bearing. Cervical disc disease, for example, can cause a condition known as radiculopathy, where a vertebral disc presses against the nerves that run into the arms and hands. This can result in weakness, burning pain, and loss of sensation in the hands. Similarly, the side-effects of medications may cause hand shaking, or tremor.
The effect of hand problems on the ability to work can be devastating. Let’s assume an individual is limited to sedentary (sit down) jobs due to severe back pain. This hypothetical individual is further limited to jobs requiring low concentration as a result of the narcotic pain medications he or she has to take to combat the pain. Under Social Security’s rules, this individual is substantially limited, but there would still be simple and routine sedentary jobs available, and Social Security would, unfortunately, deny this claim. But, if in addition to those problems, this same individual suffered from hand limitations, which prevented the use of the hands for grasping, handling, and fingering, those remaining jobs would quickly evaporate. This is because according to Social Security’s own rules (and common sense) most unskilled sedentary jobs require “good use of both hands and the fingers.”
Typically, when raised at a hearing with a vocational expert (a specialist in the availability of jobs often called to testify in disability hearings), most experts will agree that, once you get down to unskilled, sedentary jobs, the inability to use the hands will erode either all, or all but one or two limited occupations. Sometimes, this alone is enough to result in an award of benefits.
If you’re suffering from problems using your hands, even if you could sit at a desk all day, you may still qualify for disability benefits. If you already have a claim, make sure you discuss these problems with your doctor and that you report them to Social Security so they are not overlooked. As always, our office is available for a consultation if you are not sure whether you qualify for benefits, or you have been denied despite your severe hand limitations.