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Range of Motion for VA Disability: What It Means

Range of Motion for VA Disability: What It Means

Many factors make up VA disability ratings. These factors include pain and discomfort, limitation of ability, and range of motion. In fact, range of motion is the primary factor the VA uses to rate back, knee, neck, and other injuries.

Learn how range of motion can impact your VA disability claim and how to gather the right evidence to prove your case. Let’s take a closer look at this topic in detail below.

What Is Range of Motion?

In a nutshell, range of motion means the full range of normal or expected motions that a limb or body part can perform. Range of motion measurements are provided for different types of movement, such as bending forward (flexion) or bending backwards (extension). 

Range of motion is important for the VA because it helps determine the full extent of a Veteran’s injuries and just how disabling their injuries may be. Range of motion is one of the easiest types of medical evidence you can show to prove your disability. Doctors can simply measure your range of motion and record that information as needed. Ratings for joints are provided based on range of motion measurements. 

How Does Range of Motion Relate to VA Disability Claims?

Like with many other VA benefits, the VA rates range of motion disabilities on a sliding scale. Generally, the lower your range of motion for an injured body part or limb, the higher your disability rating will be. 

For example, a Veteran with a slight impairment to their back’s range of motion will receive a lower disability rating than a Veteran with a major impairment to their back’s range of motion to reflect the increased difficulty impairments imposed on Veterans’ lives.

It’s much harder to go about your daily activities or hold down a job if you are unable to bend down, for example. But if your range of motion is only slightly affected, the VA assumes you can do most things yourself without major assistance and compensates you accordingly.

Back and Neck Range of Motion Ratings

The VA rates range of motion differently for different areas of the body. Specifically, the VA examines ranges of motion for the cervical spine, or the neck and upper back, and the thoracolumbar spine or lower back. VA disability ratings can range from 0% up to 100% total disability depending on the severity of one’s range of motion injury.

Here is a breakdown of the ratings for both the cervical spine and the thoracolumbar spine ranges of motion according to the VA.

  • 10% disability rating – Forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine greater than 60 degrees but not greater than 85 degrees; or, forward flexion of the cervical spine greater than 30 degrees but not greater than 40 degrees; or, combined range of motion of the thoracolumbar spine greater than 120 degrees but not greater than 235 degrees; or, combined range of motion of the cervical spine greater than 170 degrees but not greater than 335 degrees. 
  • 20% disability rating – Forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine greater than 30 degrees but not greater than 60 degrees; or, forward flexion of the cervical spine greater than 15 degrees but not greater than 30 degrees; or, the combined range of motion of the thoracolumbar spine not greater than 120 degrees; or, the combined range of motion of the cervical spine not greater than 170 degrees.
  • 30% disability rating – Forward flexion of the cervical spine 15 degrees or less; or, the cervical spine is stuck or frozen in an uncomfortable or unhealthy position. Does not apply to thoracolumbar spine injuries/conditions. 
  • 50% disability rating – Entire thoracolumbar spine is stuck or frozen in an uncomfortable or unhealthy position. Does not apply to cervical spine injuries/conditions.
  • 100% disability rating – Entire spine is stuck or frozen in an uncomfortable or unhealthy position.

Knee and Leg Range of Motion Ratings

The VA rates ranges of motion for knee and leg injuries a little differently. Sometimes, a disability rating depends on the exact injury affecting a knee or leg, which also affects the minimum and maximum disability rating they may receive.

For instance, knee and leg injuries have eight different diagnostic codes in total for injuries such as cartilage removal, knee replacement, and limitation of flexion or extension. 

Here’s a specific example of how the VA rates knee injuries that result in limitation of extension, diagnostic code 5261. The VA looks at ranges of motion, in addition to other factors, to determine the disability rating a Veteran may receive:

  • Extension limited by only 5°: 0% disability
  • Extension limited by 15°: 20% disability
  • Extension limited by 30°: 40% disability
  • Extension limited by 45°: 50% disability

As you can see, a Veteran may receive a disability rating of 0% to 50% for limitation of extension specifically. Other knee injuries, such as knee replacements or issues with cartilage, could add to this total depending on injury specifics.

Other Range of Motion Ratings

In addition to range of motion ratings for back, neck, knee, and leg injuries, the VA examines the ranges of motion for arms, hands, and other joints when assigning disability ratings to Veterans. As with the other injury types above, the exact disability rating one may receive depends on:

  • How severe the range of motion limitation is. The greater the limitation, the higher the disability rating
  • Whether discomfort or pain accompanies the range of motion limitation
  • Whether the range of motion limitation impacts a Veteran’s ability to complete tasks or work

If you have suffered an injury impacting your range of motion for one or another body part, have your range of motion tested by a doctor. You’ll need that information when filing your disability claim.

Flareups and Repetitive Motions

In addition to regular limitations to your range of motion, you may experience injury or pain flareups, characterized as sudden and inconsistent reductions in range of motion or flexibility. Flareups can occur sporadically, for no apparent reason, or they may occur after you perform multiple repetitive motions with one or another disabled or injured body part.

If your range of motion is inconsistent or becomes limited at random times, it’s important to record this information with a doctor’s assistance. For example, you don’t want to visit the VA and get tested for your leg’s range of motion on a “good day,” which may result in you receiving a lower disability rating than you truly deserve.

Recording flareups and the impact of repetitive motions on your limbs/back can:

  • Show the VA the maximum limitations you experience to your range of motion for an injured area of your body
  • Ensure that you receive a higher disability rating and more benefits

Speak to a lawyer or doctor about the possibility of variable musculoskeletal injury symptoms. It’s normal for musculoskeletal injuries to become better or worse throughout the day. But that shouldn’t impact the ultimate compensation you receive from the VA for your injuries.

How to Ensure You Get the Disability Benefits You Need

The best way to make sure you get the right disability rating for your injuries is to contact knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys. Veterans law attorneys:

  • Know the difficulty of living with musculoskeletal injuries or other injuries that impact your range of motion
  • Can help you collect the right evidence necessary to prove your disability claim without negatively impacting your total rating
  • May help you file a secondary condition claim if you have multiple conditions impacting your range of motion

More than anything else, Veterans law attorneys can provide you with sound legal counsel and help you overturn rejected disability claims. If your first medical examination takes place on a day where you had lots of range of motion, your claim might be denied based on that exam’s results.

Knowledgeable lawyers can ensure that you get a second examination. That way, the VA gets a much clearer picture of your range of motion limitations and the symptoms of your injuries. With attorneys’ help, you’ll be much more likely to receive a fair disability rating for your chronic condition.

Contact Berry Law Today

As you can see, range of motion impacts the total disability benefits you may receive from the VA. Whether you are filing your first disability benefits claim or need help appealing a VA decision, Berry Law can help.

As experienced Veterans law attorneys, we’re well-equipped and ready to assist with your upcoming disability claim and/or appeals process. We can collect evidence on your behalf, ensure that your range of motion is fully understood by the VA, and help you get the benefits you deserve.

Contact us today for more information and a free consultation.

Sources:

38 CFR § 4.71a – Schedule of ratings – musculoskeletal system | Cornell.edu

Range of Motion – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

Thoracolumbar spine trauma – Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment | BMJ Best Practice US

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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