Nonspecific spinal pain and intervertebral disc herniations are common, and in evaluating spinal impairment physicians should carefully assess the significance of imaging findings, physical examination findings, and reports of limb pain. A case example illustrates key principles in assessing cervical pain in an individual with questionable arm complaints. A 62-year-old man had a slip and fall injury. Imaging studies revealed degenerative disc disease with disc bulges and without specific disc herniations according to the radiologists, but his physician reviewed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) films and reported multiple disc herniations. The case example illustrates the significance of the finding of degenerative disc disease, determining whether to rate for “soft tissue and nonspecific conditions” or “motion segment lesions,” and assessing “nonverifiable radicular complaints.” The authors note that cervical degenerative disc “disease” is more aptly a radiologic diagnosis reflecting aging rather than a clinical syndrome and does not necessarily imply that the degenerative disc disease is the cause of the pain. To distinguish between nonverifiable radicular complaints without objective evidence of radiculopathy and unreliable vague complaints involving the extremity, evaluators should determine that the complaints are consistently and repetitively recognized in medical records and that they lie in the distribution of a single nerve root that the examiner can name. The diagnosis of “intervertebral disc herniation” cannot be made, and instead the “nonspecific chronic pain” diagnosis can be used. Nor can the diagnosis of alteration of motion segment integrity be used because the case lacks radiographically documented instability.

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