If your arthritis prevents you from working, you may qualify for disability benefits.
We’ll go over how the SSA defines arthritis, what factors impact your chances of getting benefits, and what you should do if you think you qualify.
The short answer is yes, to the SSA, arthritis is a disability — but only if it’s severe enough to prevent you from working. The SSA requires you to meet strict medical criteria to receive benefits for arthritis. Your best option is to work with a doctor (and likely a disability lawyer) to properly document your condition.
Arthritis isn’t a single disease — there are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions.
The SSA doesn’t have a section dedicated to arthritis in their Blue Book (their reference guide for conditions that may qualify for disability). Instead, they mention some types of arthritis under two separate listing categories: Musculoskeletal disorders and immune system disorders.
These types of arthritis are discussed under the SSA’s listings for musculoskeletal disorders. Any condition where your skeletal spine pushes against a nerve route (i.e. facet arthritis) or pushes abnormalities of a major joint in the upper or lower body (i.e. osteoarthritis) can be considered a musculoskeletal condition eligible for disability.
If your inflammatory arthritis involves your axial spine (i.e. psoriatic arthritis) or your peripheral joints (rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, etc.) you can qualify for disability if you demonstrate to the SSA that you’re unable to work as a result. The SSA considers many types of inflammatory arthritis an immune system disorder. In these cases, they’ll evaluate whether you have difficulty walking or moving your joints, or suffer from joint pain, swelling, and tenderness.
Depending on the type of arthritis you have, the SSA has specific criteria your condition needs to meet.
In general, you need to prove, with medical evidence, that you have arthritis, and that your condition is keeping you from doing meaningful work.
The SSA will consider if you have difficulty using your upper and/or lower body because of your condition. This type of physical limitation must have lasted, or be expected to last, for at least 12 months continuously.
Some questions to ask yourself, and to answer in your disability application:
The SSA will also need evidence that shows you have difficulty performing activities in a work environment — compared to a home environment. Let’s say you can walk for several hours at home without an assistive device. This doesn’t automatically mean you can do the same in a work environment, and this should be cleared up with medical evidence.
The SSA will also evaluate your case on whether you need assistive devices to complete your work, or whether your condition is so disabling that you can’t use both your upper and lower body to complete work-related activities.
First, you’ll need to prove if you have inflammatory arthritis like psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout and pseudo gout.
Then, the SSA will evaluate the severity of your condition. Your condition will qualify for disability benefits if it meets one of these criteria:
Some other questions you can ask yourself and answer in your application:
If you have rheumatoid arthritis:
If you have psoriatic arthritis:
If you have gout or pseudo gout:
Related: Which conditions qualify for disability benefits?
If your arthritis meets the SSA’s criteria, your next step is to apply for disability benefits. Typically, you’ll either apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSDI is assessed based on your work history, and SSI based on your income. Learn more about whether you qualify for SSDI or SSI.
Even if you aren’t sure whether you meet all the medical requirements, you can still apply. There is no harm in applying as long as you complete the application honestly.
To easily determine whether you qualify for benefits, take our free two-minute quiz. We’ll use your answers to match you with one of our client advocates, who can give you free, personalized legal advice.
We can also pair you with a vetted disability lawyer (if you want one). Our services are totally free and if you choose to work with a lawyer, you’ll only pay them if you win your case.
While the SSA's criteria may seem strict, you don't necessarily have to check every box. The important thing is to prove your arthritis is severe enough to prevent you from working. If you don’t think you meet all the criteria, you should still apply.
You can appeal if the SSA denies your initial application (which happens to 80% of applicants). When you appeal, you’ll have an opportunity to argue your case in front of a judge. You’re much more likely to win at this stage — nearly half of applicants get approved.
The average disability check for musculoskeletal disorders is $1,363.74. If your arthritis qualifies for disability benefits, you can get up to $3,627 per month from SSDI, and up to $914 per month from SSI in 2023.
The maximum amounts for SSDI and SSI are set by law and are the same for every condition. How much you’ll actually get depends on your case. Some people can also qualify for and receive both payments.
There are a few things you can do to increase your chances of winning your claim:
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How long has your condition made it hard to work?
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