The challenges of getting life insurance with chronic back pain

One of the most common ailments affecting Americans is chronic back pain.  It’s estimated that about 65 million people experience back pain annually.  There are literally dozens of reasons why a person might suffer from back pain, ranging from a slipped disc to torn ligaments, or degenerative problems with muscles and the skeleton surrounding the spine.

People with back pain can readily get life insurance, but they will undergo a fair amount of scrutiny before a policy is issued.

Common causes of back pain

Osteoporosis – This is a common disease that weakens bones, including vertebrae, that can result in fractures or other related issues, such as the curvature of the spine.

Osteoarthritis – Is caused by aging joints that wear down after repeated use.  There can be swelling, pain and creaking in the affected joints, as well as stiffness after long periods of inactivity.  When there is a complete loss of cartilage between the joints (or vertebrae), friction increases and causes severe pain.

Sciatica – There is a large nerve that runs down the lower back and the back of each leg.  When a person injures their back, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing intense pain that can spread throughout the hips, buttocks and lower back.  Most people recover given enough time, but about 10% of all cases require surgery.

Bulging disc – A bulging disc occurs when the disc’s soft nucleus squeezes into a crack of the outer covering of the disc.  This causes the disc to bulge out from neighboring vertebrae and press on nerves that connect with the arms and legs, causing pain and numbness.

Spinal stenosis – Although it is a somewhat rare condition, spinal stenosis occurs when there is an abnormal narrowing of the spaces in the spinal canal.  It creates pain and inflammation from pressure on the spinal nerve roots.  This is closely related to lumbar stenosis, which is spinal stenosis of the lower back.

To treat chronic pain, there are a number of ways to get relief, depending on the severity and nature of the pain.  In mild cases, pain-killers such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen may be used.  While they are considered safe, they still come with risks.  For example, taking too much acetaminophen can cause liver damage, while taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause ulcers, and increase the chances of a heart attack or kidney problems.  Anti-depressants are also prescribed to treat chronic back pain.  In cases where pain is more intense or can be traced to a structural problem, surgery may be the best course of action.

Factors that influence the ability to get life insurance

If you have ever had back pain, then you know that the pain and suffering can range from a low-grade constant ache to a body numbing high level of pain that can completely immobilize a person for weeks and months at a time.

Underwriters are concerned about back pain when looking at writing a policy because chronic pain does increase a person’s mortality risk.  From a life insurance standpoint, some of the serious conditions that can affect back pain sufferers are:

Addiction to painkillers – Although the need to get relief from chronic pain is a priority, the prescriptions can be dangerous and highly addictive.  Opioid pain medicines can also alter a person’s mood and make a case of depression even worse.

Mobility – Because the back is central to most everything else that moves in your body, when a back is causing pain, a person’s mobility is severely restricted.  That restricted movement can lead to a variety of other health issues associated with the lack of movement is for a prolonged period of time.

Depression – To understand how intense back pain can be, people with this condition are four times more likely to suffer from depression.  That depression can lead to a variety of outcomes that often influence your life insurance rates.

Back surgery – To try and correct a chronic back pain situation, a person might undergo several surgeries to correct an ongoing problem.  Every time a person has surgery, it is considered an added health risk.

Underwriters will focus on the following areas as part of the due diligence process

How long have you had your chronic back pain condition?  Because chronic pain can have a cumulative effect, an underwriter will want to know if back pain has been a recent phenomenon or if it is something an applicant has lived with for years.

Is the pain constant, or is it intermittent?  People who are able to seek relief from time to time are less likely to rely on painkillers or require as much ongoing care from doctors versus a person who is in constant pain.

What are your limitations because of your back pain?  Are you physically limited in the types of things you can do, whether it’s simply walking or playing sports, or in your daily activities, such as sitting at a desk for long periods, driving a car or moving about your workplace or home.

Have you had any surgeries for your back pain?  Surgeries may bring relief, but they may also create scar tissue or be a flash point for problems in the future.  Much of this depends on what your particular back pain diagnosis entails.

Other than surgeries, what other kinds of treatment are you doing to relieve pain?  For many sufferers, doing certain kinds of exercises that will strengthen back muscles can help, as can massage treatments, yoga, acupuncture, or chiropractic treatments.  Underwriters will take this into consideration when deciding approval for a policy.

What is your occupation and have you missed any time away from it?  If you work in a physically demanding profession, then what you do could be contributing to your back problems.  Also, if you have missed time from work, this could be a red flag that you are experiencing a high level of pain or you are under too much stress.