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Can You Get Disability Benefits for Arthritis?

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
October 26, 2022  ·  4 min read

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. 

Is arthritis a disability? Can you get disability benefits for arthritis?

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.

How the SSA defines arthritis

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.

Disability for osteoarthritis, spine osteoarthritis, and facet arthritis

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.

Disability for inflammatory arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout, pseudo gout, and psoriatic arthritis. 

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.

How to get disability benefits for arthritis

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.

If your arthritis belongs to the “musculoskeletal disorders” group:

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:

  • What kind of pain am I experiencing? Is it burning, aching, pins and needles, or something else?
  • What triggers my pain? What makes it worse?
  • Do I need to lie down because of my pain? During the day, how long do I need to lie down because of it?
  • How long can I stand at one time? How long can I walk at one time?
  • Do I need people to help with daily living activities like putting on shoes, brushing my hair, etc.?
  • Does my house need modifications to help me with my condition — e.g. installing bars in the shower to help me stand?

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.

If your arthritis belongs to the immune system disorders group:

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:

  1. Persistent inflammation or deformity of one or more peripheral joints in either your upper or lower limbs, which prevents from doing your work or
  2. Inflammation or deformity of one or more peripheral joints in either your upper or lower limb, plus some constitutional symptoms (severe fatigue, fever, malaise, involuntary weight loss) and complications in two or more organs/body systems or
  3. Ankylosing spondylitis (this causes bones in the spine to fuse and makes the spine less flexible) or other spondyloarthropathies (chronic diseases of joints like psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, etc.) or
  4. Repeated manifestations of inflammatory arthritis, with at least two of the constitutional symptoms above (severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss). You'll also have to show limitations in your activities of daily living, social functioning, or ability to complete tasks in a timely manner.

Some other questions you can ask yourself and answer in your application:

If you have rheumatoid arthritis:

  • In addition to X-rays and MRIs, did I complete a blood test? 
  • Do I experience pain in specific joints? 
  • Do I have documentation of the condition progressing over time?

If you have psoriatic arthritis:

  • Do I suffer from chronic pain, stiffness, or limited range of motion?
  • Do I have labs performed by a Rheumatologist?

If you have gout or pseudo gout:

  • Do I have two or more organs or body systems affected by gout?

Related: Which conditions qualify for disability benefits?

My arthritis meets the criteria. Now what?

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.

What if my arthritis doesn’t meet the criteria?

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.

How much is a disability check for arthritis?

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.

3 tips when applying for disability with arthritis

There are a few things you can do to increase your chances of winning your claim:

  • Pay attention to how your condition affects you in a home vs. a work environment. You may be asked questions on how your arthritis limits your daily functional activities vs. your work activities. 
  • Ensure your medical records are complete and clearly show the symptoms and (if available) complications of your arthritis. Work closely with your doctor to gather the required documents for your application.
  • Work with a good disability lawyer to maximize your likelihood of success, especially if you’re not sure whether your condition meets the SSA’s criteria. People who work with a lawyer are three times more likely to win their disability case.
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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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