Pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion are common neck disabilities that affect veterans. The neck is also known as the cervical spine. Many neck-related disabilities are rated using the VA’s general rating formula for diseases and injuries of the spine.
Veterans with neck pain who understand more about the normal neck range of motion often have a better chance of getting an accurate disability rating.
What Is the Neck's Normal Range of Motion?
According to a 2005 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training, the normal neck range of motion is approximately 80 to 90 degrees of flexion, 70 degrees of extension, 20 to 45 degrees of lateral flexion, and up to 90 degrees of rotation to both sides. These measurements can be helpful for veterans who want to know exactly how their neck disability will be rated after meeting with their doctors.
The neck’s range of motion can be affected by many types of injuries, including whiplash, repetitive strain, and pinched nerves. Other common disabilities affecting the neck's range of motion include degenerative disc disease, cervical spine stenosis, and spinal cord injuries.
How Does the VA Rate Neck Disabilities?
Neck disabilities are usually rated on the neck’s range of motion. Ratings are as follows:
- 0% rating: Flexion is greater than or equal to 45 degrees, or the combined range of motion is greater than or equal to 340 degrees.
- 10% rating: Flexion is between 30 and 45 degrees, or the combined range of motion is between 175 and 340 degrees.
- 20% rating: Flexion is between 15 and 35 degrees, or the combined range of motion is less than or equal to 170 degrees, or muscle spasms are severe enough to cause spine disabilities like scoliosis.
- 30% rating: Flexion is less than or equal to 15 degrees, or there is favorable ankylosis (fused bones or tissues) of the entire cervical spine.
- 40% rating: Forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine (which includes the thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower back) regions of the spine) is 30 degrees or less, or there is unfavorable ankylosis of the entire cervical spine.
- 50% percent rating: There is unfavorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine.
- 100% rating: The entire spine does not move and is stuck in an unfavorable position.
Tips For Filing for Disability Related For Impairment of The Range Of Neck Motion
Many veterans with limited range of motion in the neck suffer from secondary conditions associated with their neck pain. These disabilities include migraine headaches and radiculopathy, among many others. Therefore, veterans may receive higher disability ratings if they can also provide the VA with medical evidence showing the onset and progression of any conditions related to their neck pain.
Other steps veterans can take when filing disability for limited range of motion in the neck include:
- Compiling all medical records, prescriptions, and other data from their doctors related to their neck condition and secondary condition, if applicable.
- Gathering statements from witnesses who can confirm the veteran’s day-to-day life is affected by their neck disability, including neighbors, employers, and coworkers.
- Seeking a second opinion from another medical doctor if the original diagnosis is inaccurate or incomplete.
- Including mental health symptoms on the claim, especially if the neck disability is causing depression or anxiety. Mental health symptoms can justify a separate rating and contribute to an overall higher combined rating.
- Working with a law firm that specializes in veterans' disability compensation to ensure they get the highest possible rating.
- Being able to communicate where along the range of motion pain is first experienced; even though you may be able to move the neck to nearly a full range of motion you should assert that your limitation begins as that point where the pain begins.
Keep in mind that if a veteran’s range of motion is not limited enough to warrant the next higher rating, the veteran should try to service connect other secondary conditions to the neck condition to increase the overall combined rating.