VA Disability Rating for Arthritis in the Back

VA Disability Rating for Arthritis in the Back

From training and daily tasks to active combat, the amount of physical labor that a Veteran has to do can put a strain on their body over time.

As a result, many Veterans suffer from arthritis in the back. This painful condition can be caused by an incident, injury, or wear and tear over time.

Veterans may not initially notice any pain in the back while the arthritis is developing. In some cases, symptoms are not felt until after a Veteran is discharged.

If you are a Veteran who suffers from arthritis in the back, then you may be eligible for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Key Takeaways:

  • You’ll learn that it can be difficult to get a high disability rating for back pain alone
  • You’ll learn that the main forms of arthritis in the back are osteoarthritis and ankylosing spondylitis
  • You’ll understand that the main factor for a high disability rating for back pain claims is range of motion

What Is Arthritis?

Contrary to popular belief, arthritis is not one single disease but rather a collection of conditions that cause pain in the joints. With more than 100 types, arthritis is one of the leading disabilities in America.

Though there are many different types of arthritis, Veterans are most likely to suffer from osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear on the joints over an extended period, leading the cartilage between the joints to break down. Because Veterans use their joints frequently and strenuously during their time in the service, it can cause joints to wear out — especially as they age.

There are many symptoms of osteoarthritis. Depending on where the arthritis is occurring, symptoms may include:

  • Severe pain
  • Stiffness or swelling in joints after resting
  • Pain when walking
  • Difficulty doing daily tasks
  • Difficulty moving joints with a full range of motion

If a Veteran does not treat their osteoarthritis symptoms, they will continue to worsen over time. Therefore, the moment that a Veteran begins to feel ongoing symptoms, they must go to a doctor in order to get a diagnosis and find treatment.

How Does Arthritis Form in the Back?

The back is a common area for arthritis to develop. Normally, patients will find that arthritis in the back occurs in either the neck region or the lower back.

Veterans usually first notice arthritis in their back when they begin to feel pain or stiffness. The two main forms of arthritis in the back are osteoarthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

Osteoarthritis in the back is similar to osteoarthritis in other parts of the body, with age, injury, and wear and tear being the major contributing factors. 

On the other hand, Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of inflammatory arthritis. This means that inflammation occurs in areas where the joints meet and where other ligaments attach to the vertebrae.

Failure to treat either of these forms of arthritis in the back can negatively affect a Veteran’s health. It can cause future health complications such as:

  • Nerve compression
  • Stress fractures
  • Bone spurs
  • Collapsed vertebrae 

Sadly, when arthritis begins, it cannot be reversed. However, if a Veteran is able to maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine, they may be able to halt the severity of their symptoms.

What Are Common Treatments for Arthritis in the Back?

Even though treatment cannot heal arthritis completely, it is still crucial that Veterans suffering from arthritis in the back get treatment. Treatment can help slow the progression of back conditions and relieve pain, inflammation, and stiffness in the joints.

There are several common ways that Veterans can seek treatment for arthritis in the back.


Over-the-counter pain killers are some of the most common forms of treatment for people suffering from arthritis in the back. If the pain medication is ineffective and the patient still has extreme pain or stiffness, their doctor may prescribe a stronger dosage.

Common medications include NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin, Advil)
  • Naproxen (e.g., Aleve)
  • And over a dozen other specialized medications

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists can help Veterans improve their joint and muscle strength while also increasing their range of motion. They tend to lead them in exercises that stretch their core and back muscles, using posture training as another means to help improve strength.


If the previous two methods fail, physicians may suggest surgery. Several procedures exist to improve joint pain and restore some mobility to the affected area.

For instance, joint surfaces can be smoothed or realigned via small arthroscopic incisions to improve joint function. More invasive procedures include joint replacements, in which a damaged joint is replaced with an artificial one, and joint fusion, in which smaller bones are fused together into one rigid unit.

What Is the VA Disability Rating for Arthritis in the Back?

Veterans who can make a successful service connection for their arthritis in the back can receive VA benefits for their back pain.

There are so many factors that can contribute to a Veteran’s back pain, and the VA has an interesting — albeit arguably unfair — way of determining the VA disability rating for arthritis in the back.

For other parts of the body, the VA will often give disability ratings depending on the severity of the symptoms that the Veteran suffers from. If the pain is higher and the Veteran is able to show ample evidence of this, then they can receive a higher disability rating.

With back pain, though, it is different. Higher disability ratings are determined by the range of motion, or the lack thereof, that a Veteran has in their back.

A Veteran cannot get a higher disability rating for arthritis in the back if their only symptom is pain. Even if life-altering pain keeps a Veteran from doing things, the VA may only give a Veteran a 10% disability rating.

Because the VA’s rules and regulations keep them from giving higher ratings just for back pain, a Veteran will have to go to an examination that determines how much range of motion they have.

This is, unfortunately, the only way that a Veteran can get a higher VA rating for their back pain.

What Is Involved in the Examination?

A Veteran must attend their examination. Failure to do so may mean that they cannot get a higher rating or approval for benefits overall.

The examiner will measure their range of motion by degrees to determine how much they can move and if their arthritis in the back entitles them to more benefits.

During the examination, the Veteran should also make sure that the examiner asks whether or not the Veteran experiences flare-ups after certain activities. If a Veteran does, and if the flare-ups worsen their range of motion, then the examiner is required to note that and estimate any additional lack of motion because of the Veteran’s flare-ups.

Along with that, the VA must then consider the additional lack of range in motion when they assign the VA disability rating. If the VA does not consider the additional worsening of motion that a Veteran encounters, then the Veteran will have ample ground to appeal a VA decision.

In general, Veterans can appeal any decision that the VA makes. Because back injuries and pain can be challenging to get the desired benefits through the VA, however, it can be even more challenging to appeal a VA decision.

In these circumstances, it is always best that the Veteran works with a team of attorneys experienced with the VA’s rules and regulations, such as Berry Law.

This will ensure that the Veteran receives the higher benefits that they deserve in a timely manner.


Because of the strenuous physical labor that Veterans endure during their time in the service, many are discharged with back pain and arthritis in the back.

Even though it may not be noticed for years, events during a Veteran’s time in the service may be the leading cause of back pain.

To receive benefits, a Veteran needs to make a claim through the VA regarding their back pain and compile the evidence that will help show that they have a limited range of motion. Only then can a Veteran hope for a higher disability rating and better benefits.

For more expert information on VA benefits and Veteran disabilities, visit our website.


What Is Arthritis? |

5 Common Types of Arthritis | WebMD

What Is Arthritis of the Spine? | Integrity Spine & Orthopedics

Arthritis – Diagnosis and Treatment | Mayo Clinic

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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