Which conditions win the most Social Security disability benefits?


Many people ask which medical conditions, disabilities, or impairments are most likely to win a Social Security disability benefits case?

The 2011 statistics gathered by the Social Security Administration provide the answer:



The single largest group of conditions that were approved for Social Security disability benefits were “musculoskeletal system and connective tissue disorders”. These amounted to 33.8% of awarded disability claims. This includes back injuries such as disc herniations, disc bulges, degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, spinal stenosis,and  nerve impingement. This also includes things such as amputation, fractures of the fever, tibia, pelvis, or one or more of the tarsal bones.

Mental disorders make up the second largest percentage of approved Social Security disability impairments – at 19.3%. Of this, nearly half are mood disorders, such as major depression, bipolar disorders, and anxiety disorder.

Keep in mind that these statistics only show you how often particular conditions appeared in approved cases. Here is what this doesn’t show:

  • It does not show what conditions are more likely to be approved. Musculoskeletal impairments show up four times more frequently than nervous system disorders. However, that does not mean that musculoskeletal conditions are four times more likely to be approved than neurological ones. Keep in mind the number of applications based on each condition is different. There are going to be more applications for back injuries than for epilepsy simply because there is a higher incidence of back injuries in the United States than seizure disorders.
  • It does not show the likelihood of being approved for a particular condition. For example: even though autistic disorders account for only 0.2% of all approved cases, it does not mean that autistic disorders only have a 0.2% chance of being approved.

What can you take away from this chart? Familiarity. The chart shows you the conditions that Social Security will be most familiar with. There is an old saw that “we know what we do, and we know best what we do most.” The high incidence of musculoskeletal impairments suggests that Social Security is more likely to be familiar with back injury disabilities, then, for example, blood disorder disabilities. In my opinion, this familiarity may translate into a greater likelihood to correctly evaluate the disability case. Of course, this does not mean that a “less familiar” case will automatically be denied. However, it may be more difficult. It may even make it necessary to appeal the case to a Social Security Administrative Law Judge.

If your condition falls into one of the smaller sections of the pie chart – with a lower percentage of approvals – be aware that it may take more to prove your case such as additional medical evidence, or statements from your doctor(s).