After years of depending on your strength to get you through work, your back finally gave out. You’ve had surgery and gone through a long recovery, but you still aren’t going to be able to do the work you used to do. This is the only job you’ve ever had. But after Social Security denied your application, you’re worried you’re going to have to go back to work even though you can barely stand without pain.

Understanding Social Security’s Medical-Vocational Rules for Disability

The Social Security Administration (SSA) understands that those with disabilities face a number of factors that can keep them from working. That is why there are special rules to help determine if an injured worker can adjust to a different type of sustaining work based on his or her age, education, work experience, and physical and mental limitations.

The SSA Considers the Following Factors to Determine Your Medical-Vocational Abilities:


  • Age. Age can be a limiting factor both physically and mentally for many workers in adapting to new job opportunities. For this reason, younger workers are less likely to be considered totally disabled, since they are generally better at understanding technology and learning how to perform new work.
  • Background. SSA will consider your current level of education and your past work experience, as well as the likelihood of your ability to train for a new career.
  • Exertion limitations. SSA classifies your exertion limitations (or restrictions) using five levels of job descriptions: sedentary (involving lifting or carrying less than 10 lbs. occasionally, and standing or walking for at least 2 hours); light (lifting or carrying up to 20 lbs. occasionally and standing or walking for 6 hours); medium (lifting/carrying up to 50 lbs. occasionally and 25 lbs. frequently, and standing or walking for 6 hours); heavy (lifting/carrying up 100 lbs. occasionally and 50 lbs. frequently, standing or walking for 6 hours); and very heavy (lifting/carrying over 100 lbs. frequently and standing/walking for 6 hours).
  • Job existence. Once the SSA has gathered all of your working ability and restrictions together, they must then prove that there are jobs available at your skill level that you are able to do. This is based on the available number of unskilled jobs in the economy in or near the city where you live.

If the SSA believes that you are able to complete light or sedentary work given your disability restrictions, they must specifically state in the determination that your application has been denied based on your ability to perform your past work or any other work.. However, there are ways to prove that you cannot perform any work, and most involve gathering additional evidence in your case. For more information on building your appeal, click the contact link on this page or order our free guide, 5 Deadly Mistakes That Can Destroy Your Social Security Disability Case.


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