ARNOLD, Circuit Judge.
This is a social-security disability case in which the Secretary appeals the District Court's reversal of the Secretary's decision denying benefits. The issue before us is one that has vexed the courts and the Secretary for some time and in many cases: whether the Secretary's finding that the claimant is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence, when the claimant alleges that she suffers disabling pain. The ALJ (whose opinion was substantially adopted by the Appeals Council, and therefore states the Secretary's rationale), applying the standards we have set out, see Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (order), supplemented, 751 F.2d 943 (8th Cir.1984), vacated, ___ U.S. ___, 106 S.Ct. 2885, 90 L.Ed.2d 974 adhered to on remand, 804 F.2d 456 (8th Cir.1986), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 107 S.Ct. 3211, 96 L.Ed.2d 698 (1987), found Mrs. Benskin's complaints of disabling pain inconsistent with the evidence as a whole, and discounted them. On appeal, the District Court held that the
We reverse the District Court. In our view, the Secretary properly evaluated Mrs. Benskin's accounts of pain, and his decision denying benefits is supported by substantial evidence.
Mrs. Benskin was 56 years old at the time of the hearing, has a twelfth-grade education, and has worked as a junior accountant, personnel clerk, and cashier. She has had two operations on her back: the first, in April 1980, was to cut out a herniated disk, and the second, in September 1982, was to remove the posterior arch between two of her lumbar vertebrae and fuse the vertebrae together. After her second surgery, she saw her treating physician, Lynn O. Litton, M.D., twice, once in November 1982 and once in January 1983. Litton noted at the time of the January 1983 visit:
Record (R.) at 95. She has not seen Litton since that visit.
After Mrs. Benskin filed her claim for benefits, the State Agency referred her to a consulting physician, J.D. Morris, D.O., for an examination on November 29, 1984. Morris reported that she had mild muscle spasms in the lower back and restricted flexion in the lower spine. Mrs. Benskin told him it was painful to bend forward more than 40 to 45 degrees. Morris concluded that she had "Chronic low back pain, 2) Status post lumbar spine surgery times two, 3) Left S1 radiculopathy [a disease of the roots of the spinal nerves], probably old, or chronic." R. 98.
At the hearing, Mrs. Benskin stated that she had to quit her last full-time job in February 1982 because of back problems. (The record, however, shows that she worked four days a week from June through September 1982 as a personnel clerk. R. 66.) She described the pain as sometimes "a jabbing pain, sometimes just a solid pain, an ache or pain. Other times it's spasms." R. 28. She feels it in her lower back and right leg, and occasionally in both legs. Standing for an hour aggravates the pain. She has to sit on the edge of a straight-backed chair or have one leg under her in order to take the pressure off her back while sitting. She takes Advil in the morning and evening, and an aspirin in the afternoon. In the morning she gets up at seven, cooks breakfast, waters and trims 20 hanging plants, and walks about two blocks. Then she lies down in the fetal position for about an hour and a half because of back spasms. When she gets up she fixes lunch, tries to walk some more, and embroiders. She lies down again for about two and one-half hours in the afternoon.
According to the claimant's testimony, her hips are so sore she can barely touch them. She drives once or twice a month to the grocery store, which is 12 miles from her home, to go shopping. Sitting in a car does not bother her, but she gets tense driving. She can dress herself except for putting on socks. Her husband does all of the housework except for washing dishes and dusting, which she does. She goes to bed at 9:30 or 10:00 and sleeps soundly. She cannot lift more than eight pounds off the floor, but she can carry eight to ten pounds from a countertop to the refrigerator.
The ALJ was concerned that, at the time of the hearing, Mrs. Benskin had not seen a doctor in about three years. Earlier she had explained, "I didn't have the money. It took me almost two years to get [the doctor] paid off from the surgery and every time I'd go see him, it was another $80.
After the ALJ had made his decision, Mrs. Benskin was examined by her surgeon, Garth S. Russell, M.D., and his report was made part of the record during her administrative appeal. Russell's letter stated that her condition was improved after the second surgery, but she continued to have substantial symptoms of pain. He concluded:
The ALJ found that Mrs. Benskin suffered a severe impairment because of the residual effects of her operations, but that it was not severe enough to prevent her from engaging in her past relevant work. He then considered her complaints of disabling pain:
The District Court ruled that the ALJ had improperly discounted Mrs. Benskin's complaints because, in its review of the record in light of Polaski, the following nine "undisputed facts" were apparent:
Benskin v. Bowen, No. 85-4540-CV-C-5, slip op. at 7-8 (W.D.Mo. July 17, 1986).
We cannot accept the District Court's reasons for reversing the Secretary. The questions for federal courts to consider in this kind of case are (1) whether, according to Polaski, the Secretary considered all of the evidence relevant to claimant's complaints of pain, and (2) whether that evidence contradicted her account, so that the Secretary could discount her testimony for lack of credibility. To explain our disagreement with the District Court, we must go through each of its nine reasons for reversal. In doing so, we are governed by the general principle that questions of fact, including the credibility of a claimant's subjective testimony, are primarily for the Secretary to decide, not the courts.
1. The fact that medical evidence showed the existence of chronic back problems does not go to the issue of claimant's credibility. The ALJ took it as established that claimant had a medical impairment, but found it not so severe as to be disabling. This left the issue of whether claimant's description of her pain should be believed. The fact of her medical impairment is not inconsistent with her account, but neither is it the kind of evidence that makes her claim of the severity of her pain more believable. The impairment, objectively considered, is not obviously so serious
2. Whether claimant's prior work record is good is a matter that the Secretary disputes — it is certainly not "undisputed." Mrs. Benskin worked from 1960 to 1976 at one job, and then did not work again until 1978, when she worked for less than a year as a cashier. She worked for six weeks in 1979 in the purchasing department of the University of Missouri, and then worked from December 1979 through February 1982 as a junior accountant. After she left that job, she worked from June 1982 until (apparently) her alleged disability-onset date, September 10, 1982, as a personnel clerk four days a week. See R. 27, 66.
Whether this is a good work record, and thus supports Mrs. Benskin's credibility, is a question for the Secretary to consider under Polaski. The ALJ's opinion did not do so in detail, but this does not entitle the District Court to undertake this consideration for itself — to engage in fact-finding in a social-security case is not within the province of a federal court. An arguable deficiency in opinion-writing technique is not a sufficient reason for setting aside an administrative finding where, as here, the deficiency probably had no practical effect on the outcome of the case. Our feeling that this error, if there was one, is not significant is bolstered by the fact that claimant's brief in this Court does not argue that the ALJ's finding should be reversed because his opinion did not adequately discuss the claimant's work history.
3. Contrary to the District Court's assertion, the consulting physician noted in November 1984 that claimant "was in no significant distress." R. 97. Her treating physicians did note that she has a "stiff and sore" back: Litton stated in January 1983 that she still had "soreness in her back," R. 95, and Russell said in August 1985 that "she continues with generalized pain and stiffness in her back." R. 9. But the question is not whether Mrs. Benskin suffers any pain; it is whether she is fully credible when she claims that her back hurts so much that it prevents her from engaging in her prior work. These statements are consistent only with the fact of pain, not with any particular level of pain.
4. Mrs. Benskin's daily activities are consistent with her account of her pain to a certain degree. Certainly that she takes Advil and aspirin and must lie in the fetal position for four hours a day is consistent with her account of disabling pain. (We note, however, that the ALJ did not have to believe every detail of the claimant's version of her daily activities.) But that she sleeps soundly, washes dishes, dusts, cares for hanging plants, cooks breakfast and lunch, drives and shops occasionally, and walks two blocks every morning could be seen as inconsistent with her account. These activities are similar to the activities required for sedentary work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a). It would not be irrational for the Secretary to consider these daily activities inconsistent with her claim of constant, disabling pain.
5. Whether the evidence of the duration, frequency, and intensity of claimant's pain is inconsistent with the determination that she can do sedentary work simply begs the question. No one doubts that Mrs. Benskin has some pain. The question is how severe her pain is. The only evidence that the pain is disabling comes from the claimant's testimony, and that requires a determination of her credibility. The Secretary's finding that she can perform sedentary work is a conclusion derived only after discounting the claimant's credibility. The question for the courts is whether it was proper to discount claimant's credibility, not whether the ultimate determination is inconsistent with the claimant's account. (A conclusion denying benefits will of course always be inconsistent with a claimant's allegation of disabling pain.)
6. The question is not whether the evidence of precipitating and aggravating stimuli is consistent with the medical evidence; it is, instead, whether the evidence of such stimuli is consistent with the claimant's account of pain. The precipitating factors for her pain appear to be generalized
Some bending was required in her past employment. Both Russell and Morris noted that Mrs. Benskin could not bend forward past 40 or 45 degrees, and Morris noted that she claimed it was too painful to bend past that point. R. 9, 98. But this does not corroborate her assertion of constant, severe back pain so strongly as to authorize us to set aside the ALJ's finding; it does little more than repeat her claim of severe pain when she bends forward.
7. The ALJ was certainly entitled to find Mrs. Benskin's failure to seek medical attention inconsistent with her complaints of pain. See Driggins v. Bowen, 791 F.2d 121, 124 (8th Cir.1986). The measures she undertook to relieve her pain, hot showers and doses of Advil and aspirin, do not indicate that her pain was so severe as to be disabling. Although lack of financial resources may in some cases justify the failure to seek medical attention, see Tome v. Schweiker, 724 F.2d 711, 714 (8th Cir.1984),
8. The medical evidence does not indisputably show that Mrs. Benskin's range of motion is "severely limited." Although each of the physicians has noted that she has some limits on her range of motion, those limits are (1) an inability to bend forward at the waist more than 40 to 45 degrees, (2) tightness in her legs when they are raised to the level of 90 degrees, and (3) no ankle jerk in response to a reflex test of the deep tendon in the knee. R. 9, 90, 98. Even if it were not disputed whether these are "severe" limitations, the question with respect to these functional restrictions is whether they are consistent or inconsistent with the claimant's allegation of disabling pain; in this case they do not clearly point in either direction on that issue.
9. The ALJ's statement to Mrs. Benskin, "Obviously, you're still in a lot of pain, aren't you?," cannot be read literally, as a recognition of the severity of her pain. Nor can it be binding as some kind of admission or estoppel against the Secretary. We have quoted the passage of the
This review has demonstrated that substantial evidence in the record is inconsistent with the claimant's allegation of constant, disabling pain. The Secretary noted that Mrs. Benskin had not sought medical relief for her pain and did not appear to be in discomfort before the ALJ at the hearing or before Morris during the consultative examination. This was a sufficient basis on which to discount the claimant's subjective complaints, and, once those complaints are discounted, there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Secretary's conclusion that Mrs. Benskin can perform her past relevant work.
The judgment of the District Court is reversed, and the cause remanded with instructions to grant the Secretary's motion for summary judgment and dismiss the complaint with prejudice.
It is so ordered.