Over the past 15 years, disability claims due to migraines have become more common, and it’s estimated that approximately 39 million Americans experience migraines—a throbbing, pulsing pain that usually occurs on one side of the head and creates an extreme sensitivity to light and sound. In the U.S. alone, this accounts for over 113 million sick days—a costly illness that results in over $24 billion lost annually because of absenteeism and decreased productivity. If you suffer from migraine headaches, you know they’re not easy to deal with. Not only can migraines interfere with your daily routine, your life, and the activities you enjoy, they can also disrupt your work performance and ability to hold a job. 

When migraines become debilitating—their frequency, severity, and duration make it impossible to work—it’s possible to receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). However, to improve your chances of winning your case, your medical records need to include evidence of functional limitations caused by primary headache disorder.

How Functional Limitations Are Used to Win Migraine Disability Cases

There are three basic arguments that are considered by judges who evaluate SS disability cases. Two of those arguments are typically not successful in these types of cases: “meet a listing” and “meet a grid rule.” Neither argument works well for migraine claims because there is no specific listing for migraines in the SS Blue Book, and people must use “neurological conditions” as Silouette of a Head With a Bullseye Targetthe closest listing that might be applicable. Additionally, the grid rules apply only to cases where the person is over 50 and has limited education and work skills.

The argument used most often and successfully in migraine disability cases is the “functional limitation argument.” A functional limitation is defined as “a substantial impairment in a person’s ability to function in the condition, manner, or duration of a required major life activity.” Because an SS examiner is trying to determine whether or not you can work because of your migraines, it’s important that your medical records include specific details about how your headaches interfere with your ability to perform on the job.

Evidence Needed

When you build your case around this argument, you claim that the frequency, severity, and duration of your migraines reduce your ability to perform simple or even entry-level tasks—thus, leaving you unable to do any type of work. For example, you want your treating doctor to include the following type of information in your records:

  • You’ve been diagnosed with primary headache disorder
  • The number of unexcused absences you’ve had from work
  • The number of breaks needed during work
  • Why you need low stress activities
  • The uncertainty and unpredictability of your migraines and when they’ll occur
  • The number of unscheduled bathroom breaks during the course of a normal work day
  • How your migraines interfere with your ability to concentrate or pay attention for up to two hours during a normal work day
  • Why you’re unable to perform work tasks at a reasonable, required pace
  • The types of side effects your medication causes
  • How often you need to lie down during each work day—for at least 45 minutes
  • Results of any tests performed such as an MRI or a CT scan that rule out other conditions that could be causing your severe, recurring headaches

If these limitations are discussed as part of your disability case, it’s likely that the administrative law judge would determine that no job would be able to accommodate this level of absenteeism or disruption.

What the Judge Wants to Know

Once the examiner has made a determination about your ability to work, and the frequency, severity, and duration of your migraines has been discussed, the judge will want to ensure that:

  • You are being truthful, sincere, and credible in defining your migraine experiences.
  • You have not been successful using all available medications and therapies prescribed by your doctor.
  • Your medical records support your claims about the frequency, severity, and duration of your headaches.

If the judge finds that you have met all the criteria and your doctor has documented the limitations on your activities due to your migraines, you have a fair chance of winning your case. It helps to keep a journal to document the frequency of your migraines.

Cuddigan Law for Migraine Disability Benefits

If you suffer from frequent, severe migraines that prevent you from working, you may be eligible for SS disability benefits, and our Omaha SSDI attorneys can help. Learn more in our free booklet, Why You Should Hire an Attorney to Handle Your Social Security Disability Claim, and then contact Cuddigan Law to speak with an intake specialist for free.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska