A Closer Look at VA Disability Rating for Back Pain Explained

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If you have back pain and are seeking a disability rating, it is important to understand the VA process to determine your back pain disability rating. The first step is establishing that your back or thoracolumbar spine condition is service-connected and entitling you to benefits.

This is accomplished through a compensation and pension (C&P) exam. The examiner will ask questions to assess your medical history and complete a DBQ.

Range of Motion

It can be challenging for numerous Veterans to demonstrate that their VA disability rating for back pain is connected to their military service. There are several ways to establish an in-service connection, and the most common is tracing the pain to military service. This may be done through a medical diagnosis, statements from fellow servicemembers, or notations in military records.

At a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam, a medical professional will fill out a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ). It asks questions about the frequency of your pain, your ability to move around normally, and your current medical history.

The DBQ will also ask how your back condition has changed over time. Your rating could increase if the doctor believes your back is getting worse. The most severe rating for back pain is 100%, reserved for unfavorable ankylosis of the entire spine. It would mean the spine is frozen, and you can no longer bend or flex your back. The lowest possible rating is 10 percent.

Painful Motion

A significant part of a back pain rating involves how much you can bend and flex your joints. During your Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam, a medical professional will test how far you can move in all directions. A rating for back pain can be based on just one condition or multiple conditions causing back pain. For example, a total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) rating is available for veterans who have back pain and another condition that prevents them from maintaining gainful employment.

Examples of back injuries include herniated discs and degenerative spinal disorders, which can lead to pain, stiffness, tingling, and numbness in the back or legs. Secondary conditions may also be awarded if they are caused by or aggravated by a primary service-connected back injury, such as migraines, which often stem from stress while serving. If you suffer from back pain and have not received a satisfactory VA disability rating, you should talk to a veterans law attorney about steps to improve your claim.


For Veterans who have fought for years to prove that an in-service back injury is disabling, the first time the VA awards them is often disappointing. This is because they are usually awarded a percentage rating, determining how much money they will receive each month.

The severity of your back pain can also impact your disability rating. This is because the severity of your condition, such as lumbar spine radiculopathy, can influence which nerve the herniated disc affects, how much pain, numbness, or tingling you experience, and what functional impact this has on your life.

This is why focusing on your symptoms at the C&P exam can be critical to getting a higher disability rating for back pain. Our attorneys discuss how to do this in detail in this blog post.

Functional Loss

The type of rating you receive depends on your specific condition and its impact on your daily life. It’s important to remember that a disability rating doesn’t necessarily reflect the severity of your back pain but rather how much it limits your daily functions and activities.

To file a disability claim, veterans must provide a medical professional with an up-to-date injury diagnosis. It often happens during a compensation and pension (C&P) exam, where a VA-approved medical practitioner conducts both an interview and a physical examination.

During the C&P, the examiner will usually test how far you can bend and flex your joints to assess their limitations. It’s important to ask your examiner to use a goniometer to ensure they are evaluating your joints’ limits accurately. Using a goniometer will help avoid misunderstandings and errors in the evaluation, which could lead to a miscalculation of your functional loss. A miscalculation could result in you receiving a lower rating than you deserve.

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