Serving Central California Since 1995

ASK THE ADVOCATE: I am a 45-year-old woman just diagnosed with cervical dystonia. It took a while to get the right diagnosis because I was having terrible bad headaches. About 6 months ago I developed head tremors like a jerking motion. I work as an administrative assistant and I can’t do the job with my symptoms. Really, I can’t do any job since the pain caused by the jerking motion is really bad in my neck. Can I qualify for Social Security Disability?

THE ADVOCATE: Cervical dystonia, which can also be referred to as spasmodic torticollis, can cause involuntary contraction of the muscles in the neck or the tilting of the head forward and backward. Movements can be sustained or instantaneous, although it generally affects one specific area of the body such as the claimant’s neck or head.

Cervical dystonia is a rare condition which occurs more frequently in women than in men. It can occur at any age, although this is rare. Conditions generally get worse over time and there is no cure. Medical professionals may recommend either surgery or other injections to reduce the symptoms. Occasionally the condition will improve without treatment, but this is unlikely.

Symptoms include those you mention as well as:

  • Movement of the chin straight up
  • Chin pulled to the shoulder
  • Abnormal head positions
  • Jerking motion of the head
  • Chin pulled straight down
  • Radiating neck pain
  • Headaches
  • Severe pain which leads to fatigue
  • Head tremors
  • Muscle hypertrophy

Social Security does not have a specific listing for cervical dystonia, however, symptoms are very similar to Parkinson’s syndrome. Meeting that listing may work if you are able to provide medical evidence of significant rigidity, bradykinesia, or tremor in two extremities, which, singly or in combination, result in sustained disturbance of gross and dexterous movements, or gait and station.

Most likely claimants who have cervical dystonia will have to prove that their condition and symptoms are so severe they are not able to perform substantial gainful activity. This process is done through a medical vocational allowance. The first step to winning SSDI or SSI through a medical vocational allowance is getting your condition properly diagnosed and seeking medical care from a medical doctor who can provide objective clinical and diagnostic proof that you cannot work.

The most debilitating symptom of this condition is the chronic pain. You will need clear and convincing evidence of how your pain interferes with not only your activities of daily living (cooking, cleaning, bathing, driving, etc.) but also how it affects your ability to find and sustain full-time employment.