VA Disability Ratings for Back Injuries

Back injuries are some of the most common conditions that veterans incur in military service.  Veterans who have a service-connected back condition can receive disability benefits from VA.

But, veterans have to prove that they meet certain standards set by VA to receive benefits.  Those standard are set in VA’s diagnostic codes which are in the Code of Federal Regulations.

The diagnostic codes cover a range of disability rating for a back condition from 10 percent to 100 percent.  I have discussed the higher disability ratings for a back condition in other articles.  In this article, I will focus on establishing that you qualify for at least a 10 percent rating for your back disability.

What is the difference between back and thoracolumbar?

VA uses the term “thoracolumbar” in its diagnostic codes and in its decisions.  Thoracolumbar is really just a medical term that refers to your thoracic spine and lumbar spine.  Most people refer to this area as their middle and low back.

Couple with denial letter from VA How do I qualify for a 10% VA rating for my back condition?

VA defines the different standards for qualifying for a 10 percent rating in its diagnostic codes.  There are five basic ways to qualify for a 10% rating:

  1. Forward flexion of your thoracolumbar spine of less than 85 degrees
  2. A combined range of motion of your thoracolumbar spine of less than 235 degrees
  3. Muscle spasms, guarding, or localized tenderness
  4. A fractured vertebra which causes a loss of height of 50% or more
  5. Intervertebal disc disorder causing incapacitating episodes of at least one week during the last year

Now, let’s talk a little bit about what each one of these different standards means.

Forward flexion of your thoracolumbar spine of less than 85 degrees

Forward flexion is a pretty straighforward category.  It measures how far you can bend forward at the waist.  If your forward flexion is less than 85 degrees, then you should qualify for at least a 10 percent rating.

A combined range of motion of your thoracolumbar spine of less than 235 degrees

The combined range of motion combines the forward flexion measurement with several other measurements.  In addition to forward flexion, it measures:

  • Extension (how far backward you can bend
  • Lateral flexion and extension (side to side movement)
  • Rotation (rotating your spine)

If your combined range of motion of your thoracolumbar spine is less than 235 degrees, you should qualify for at least a 10 percent rating.

Muscle spasms, guarding, or localized tenderness

Muscle spasms in your back would often be diagnosed by your doctor.  The spasms are involuntary contractions of you muscles.

Guarding is a reaction that occurs when you are afraid to touch a painful area or worried that that something is going to cause pain to you.  For example, you might guard during a physical examination by a doctor if you were afraid that some part of the examination was going to cause you pain.

Localized tenderness will usually be tenderness that you doctor can find and put a finger on during the examination.

Any of these three things can qualify you for a 10 percent rating.  Guarding and muscles spasms can actually qualify you for a higher rating (20 percent) if they result in an abnormal gait or abnormal spinal contour.

Doctor reading spinal x ray A fractured vertebra which causes a loss of height of 50% or more

This will usually be diagnosed by x-ray.  It is not enough to just have a fractured vertebra.  The fractured vertebra must have a loss of at least 50 percent of height to qualify for a 10 percent rating.

Intervertebal disc disorder causing incapacitating episodes of at least one week during the last year

Incapacitating episodes basically means bedrest ordered for your back condition by a doctor.  If you have a total of at least a week of ordered bedrest in a year for your intervertebral disc disorder, then you should qualify for a 10 percent rating.

Can I get a higher rating than the 10 percent if my back condition is more severe?

Most of the five categories mentioned above allow you to get a higher rating than 10 percent by showing that your condition is worse.  The one category where you cannot do this is the fractured vertebra category.  But, the other four have higher ratings that could allow you to get a rating of 20, 40, 50, 60, or 100 percent depending on how severe you back condition is.

How can I get help dealing with VA?

If you would like help dealing with VA, we are happy to discuss your claim with you to see if we can help.  The best way to do that is through our free consultation process.  This article explains how that process works.

If you decide that you want to set up a free consultation, it is easy to do so.  Just call our office at (770) 214-8885 or complete and submit the consultation request form on this page.

Travis Studdard is an attorney who focuses on representing veterans in VA disability compensation claims.  He regularly writes about issues that are important to veterans and their families.

You can subscribe to his Veterans Disability channel on YouTube.

Rita BarnesRita Barnes
00:03 20 Jan 22
This is a great group of people who really care about your well being. They all treated me as though I was family and helped me with my work comp case in more ways than the average would have.Thank you Jason and Thank you Tina! For doing an awesome job.
Cortex ButlerCortex Butler
18:09 29 Dec 21
I am a Veteran of United States Air Force and was awarded my first 30% in 1996 and have been fighting for my rating for 26 years I came to Perkins and Studdard in 2019 while my mom was in a terrible incident and was given to much anesthesia and through GODS Grace she was spared her life, She is disabled since 2018 and I have been struggling with my life and issues and yet I didn’t call the law firm every 10 minutes or call being rude anytime, I mentioned this as I got to know Jessica more than just a phone call and Mr Studdard was always available when not working on other cases or in court, They always called back and Never had to do a call back, My Review is Simple in Life there peaks and valleys and it doesn’t stop because you have issues, Perkins & Studdard took my case in 2019 in 2021 I received my 100% from VA, I Was Never Rude, I was Never Promised Success, I Was Never Lied too and I was Always Treated with Respect, Friendliness, and Kindness the Real Stuff not a (Money Thing) If You want a firm that Cares about the Client and will work on your case even through a pandemic, Will not lie, will not promise anything will communicate your case and will Give you their Best ALWAYS THIS IS THE Best Law Firm for VETS HANDS DOWN Perkins and Studdard THERE IS NO OTHER 100% we had 5 calls Total Case That’s Taking Care Of Business
annetteMomma nokesannetteMomma nokes
14:29 12 Sep 16
Jason and his paralegal Lisa were on point and on top of their game when it came to handling my worker's comp. injury case. I tried going it alone and the insurance carrier pushed me around. They denied extra physical therapy. They denied injections the doctor recommended to ease my pain. When I turned my case over to Jason things turned around, QUICK. They were at all times attentive and on top of my case. I cannot recommend Jason and his staff enough. If you are hurt at work, this is the firm you want on YOUR side.
Sheila KirklinSheila Kirklin
23:11 12 May 16
Jason Perkins, was my lawyer in a workers comp. case, my case has settled now, and I am very happy for all Jason and his office hard work on my case, he was always there to help me out with any questions that I had or help I needed. Jason is a excellent lawyer and if I ever need another one I would only go to Perkins,Because I believe they would be able to help me in any situation I am in need of..
Anna PabonAnna Pabon
23:16 13 Sep 15
I recommend Perkins Law Firm. Everyone I came in contact with there was very nice. Kim was very helpful and any time I had a question she made sure I got an answer. Ann Margaret really took the time to explain things to me.

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