A person's inability to stoop could have great significance in the outcome of a Social Security Disability case. This limitation should never be overlooked by claimants and their attorneys. While limitations with respect to other activities such as walking, standing, sitting or lifting are important, I find that in many instances a person's inability to stoop can be crucial in getting Social Security to issue a determination that the claimant is disabled.
The Social Security Administration defines stooping as: "Bending the body downward and forward by bending spine at the waist, requiring full use of lower extremities and back muscles." Claimants with lower back conditions (such as spinal fusions, degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis) are the most likely to suffer from limitations in this area.
Social Security Ruling 96-9p provides that a complete inability to stoop significantly erodes the unskilled occupational base and usually results in a finding that the individual is disabled. However, it must be emphasized that for there to be a determination that the person cannot perform unskilled sedentary work, the limitation with respect to stooping must be absolute.
In addition, Social Security Ruling 83-14 provides that in most medium and heavy jobs a person must be able to stoop from one third to two thirds of the work day. Therefore, a person who is unable to stoop more than a third of the time, must be found to be unable to perform medium or heavy work. This limitation could be a significant factor in winning cases for older claimants who have never had a light or sedentary job in the fifteen year period prior becoming disabled.
In light of the rules discussed in this blog posting, it is important for claimants to properly document any limitations that they might have with respect to stooping. If possible, they should ask their doctors to comment how often they can or cannot stoop or bend in an eight hour day.