Social Security generally defines disability as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which has lasted or can be expected to last a continuous period of 12 consecutive months, or result in death.

Substantial Gainful Activity
Substantial gainful activity generally means work activity that involves performing significant and productive physical or mental job duties. Substantial gainful activity is done (or intended) for pay or profit. If you were an employee, Social Security generally considers your rate of pay in determining substantial gainful activity. A different method is used to determine substantial gainful activity if you were self-employed.

Medical Impairment
Your medical impairment must result from anatomical, physiological or psychological abnormalities. These abnormalities must be demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques. Your impairment must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms and laboratory findings. For example, it is not enough merely to complain of back pain. Your back impairment must be established by signs, symptoms and laboratory findings.

Twelve-Month Duration
Unless your impairment is expected to result in death, your impairment must have lasted or be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 consecutive months. This is called the 12-month duration requirement. For example, if you filed your disability claim shortly after
sustaining a severe injury such as fractured bones from a motor vehicle collision, your claim may be denied because Social Security decided that your impairment is not expected to last at least 12 months in a row.

Keep in mind that this disability program is generally designed for medically impaired individuals who cannot sustain full-time work activity on a regular and continuing basis for at least 12 consecutive months.

This explanation is provided for information purposes only. It is not intended to offer legal advice. Your claim may involve other more complicated considerations such as a closed period of disability or unsuccessful work attempts not discussed above. If you have filed or are considering filing a claim for Social Security Disability benefits, you may want to consult a Social Security Disability lawyer who has experience with the Social Security Disability process. An experienced Social Security Disability attorney should be able to explain this process and answer your general questions.