Is Stiff Person Syndrome a disability?

Disability for Stiff Person Syndrome
By Kimberly BishopSeptember 6, 2018

This post discusses disability for Stiff Person Syndrome. If you or someone you care for has been assessed with Stiff Person Syndrome, read on for how SSA will evaluate your claim for disability benefits.

This post is not intended as medical advice regarding Stiff Person Syndrome. If you are having symptoms of Stiff Person Syndrome, please seek medical treatment.

What is Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS)?

Per NIH , Stiff Person Syndrome (also known as Moersch-Woltman syndrome)  is a rare neurological disorder characterized by fluctuating muscle rigidity in the trunk and limbs and a heightened sensitivity to stimuli such as noise, touch, and emotional distress, which can set off muscle spasms.

In the beginning, the muscle stiffness is intermittent but eventually the stiffness becomes chronic resulting in a stiff gait that favors one side. In addition to the legs, Stiff Person Syndrome can affect the shoulders, neck, hips and even the face or arms. Abnormal posture, often hunched over and stiffened, are characteristic of the disorder.

Stiff Person Syndrome can cause severe anxiety and agoraphobia which can prevent a patient from leaving home. The cause of SPS is unknown but is thought to be an autoimmune disease. Unfortunately, SPS symptoms can progress to a severe hindrance to daily life.

Treatment for an SPS patient can include baclofen, GABAergic agonists (diazepam or benzodiazepine), steroids, plasmapheresis, and intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) (Per NCBI). Intrathecal baclofen can also be used.

There are variants of SPS such as Stiff Limp Syndrome, Jerking Stiff Person Syndrome, Progressive encephalomyelitis with rigidity and myoclonus (PERM) and Paraneoplastic SPS (Via NORD ).

Is Stiff Person Syndrome a disability?

SSA actually treats Stiff Person Syndrome as a Compassionate Allowance under DI 23022.905 Stiff Person Syndrome via 11.17 Neurodegenerative Disorders.

Compassionate Allowances (CAL) are how Social Security quickly identifies claimants that qualify under the Listings. If you meet a disability listing you are found disabled at Step 3 of the Disability Process.

Listing 11.17 (or 111.17 for children ) requires:

A. Disorganization of motor function in two extremities, resulting in an extreme limitation in the ability to stand up from a seated position, balance while standing or walking, or use the upper extremities.


B. Marked limitation in physical functioning and in one of the following:

Understanding, remembering, or applying information or

Interacting with others or

Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace or

Adapting or managing oneself.

You can meet this listing by meeting Part A OR Part B. If you are unable to walk or stand up straight or use your arms due to stiffness then you may well meet this listing. Part B requires marked physical limitation and a mental deficit as well. What constitutes a marked limitation is difficult to pinpoint but pain from rigid muscle spasms with increasing frequency would seem to qualify. Since many sufferers of SPS have anxiety and even agoraphobia the mental limitations correspond with common mental limitations.

Even if you do not meet the above listing for Stiff Person Syndrome or are still at the intermittent stiffness stage you need to apply for Disability for Stiff Person Syndrome if you are unable to work. Even intermittent painful stiffness, abnormal posture, muscle rigidity and spasms can eliminate your ability to work if severe enough. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Stiff Person Syndrome and most diseases progress with age.

The Bishop Law Firm represents Social Security Disability clients in Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville, Cary, Rocky Mount, Wilson, Smithfield, Louisburg, Chapel Hill, Roanoke Rapids and surrounding areas in North Carolina. Call us today for a free case review, (919) 615-3095.

Also read Overview of the Disability Process

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