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How Osteoarthritis Can Qualify You for Disability Benefits

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
July 28, 2023  ·  5 min read
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See if you qualify

It is possible to qualify for disability benefits due to your osteoarthritis. In fact, of individuals who receive Social Security benefits, nearly 29% of workers qualify due to diseases of the musculoskeletal system, like osteoarthritis.

Even so, the process of applying for Social Security disability benefits is challenging. Read on for guidance on how the Social Security Administration (SSA) defines osteoarthritis and what could allow your osteoarthritis to qualify, as well as a look at what steps to take next.


Is osteoarthritis a disability?

Yes, osteoarthritis is considered a disability according to the SSA. In order to qualify, you will need to demonstrate that your osteoarthritis prevents you from being able to work and that you meet other eligibility requirements set out by the SSA.

How the SSA defines osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis doesn’t have its own listing in the Blue Book, though the SSA recognizes it alongside other musculoskeletal conditions. Osteoarthritis most commonly affects joints or the spine (spinal osteoarthritis) and may be referred to as noninflammatory or degenerative arthritis.

While osteoarthritis affects every individual differently, some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Pain when moving

  • Joint stiffness, particularly after sleeping or getting up from resting

  • Swelling in the joints, especially after a lot of movement

  • Decreased mobility in the joint

  • Feeling of instability or looseness in the joint

  • Grinding sensation in the joint when moved

Types of osteoarthritis that qualify

Osteoarthritis is generally divided into two main types: primary and secondary.

Primary osteoarthritis is the most common type and has no identifiable cause. Its effects are generalized, largely impacting the fingers, thumbs, hips, knees, big toes, and spine.

Secondary osteoarthritis occurs due to preexisting abnormalities in a joint, such as from prior trauma or injury; inflammatory or infectious arthritis; or genetic, congenital, or metabolic joint disorders.

Either type of osteoarthritis can qualify you for disability, with each having the same basic criteria for eligibility that we outline in our main guide on conditions.

See if your osteoarthritis qualifies for disability.

Can you get disability for osteoarthritis?

Your osteoarthritis can qualify for disability benefits as long as your condition and symptoms are severe enough to prevent you from being able to work. Still, even if a condition technically qualifies, the path to securing disability benefits is often long. Depending on your situation, the application process can take months or even years.

Also keep in mind that you must be under your full retirement age to receive SSDI. (Learn more about Social Security Disability Insurance).

How to qualify more easily

It's easier to qualify for benefits with osteoarthritis if you are over the age of 50 because Social Security disability rules after 50 are more lenient. Once you reach that age, you only need to prove to the SSA that you can't continue to do the types of work you've done previously. For individuals under the age of 50, the SSA expects that you can still do jobs that require you to retrain. Thus, you must prove you can't do any job due to your osteoarthritis in order to get benefits.

It's also generally easier to qualify if you have another qualifying condition. In the case of secondary osteoarthritis especially, you may have one of these other underlying conditions:

  • Inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid, psoriatic, or gout

  • Infectious arthritis

  • Genetic joint disorders, such as Ehlers-Danlos

  • Congenital joint disorders

  • Metabolic joint disorders

Additionally, alongside osteoarthritis, it's common to have conditions like degenerative disc disease as well as back pain, which can possibly qualify for disability benefits.


Criteria for getting disability with osteoarthritis

To receive disability benefits due to your osteoarthritis, you'll need to have medical records and other evidence demonstrating how your osteoarthritis affects your daily life and how it prevents you from working.

It's also helpful to provide medical notes showing how your osteoarthritis has responded to treatment and management. This can help prove that, despite these efforts, your condition still leaves you unable to work and impacts your daily activities.

More specifically, you can expect the SSA to review your condition based on the following general criteria:

  • You have received a diagnosis and have medical documentation of your condition.

  • You have established a treatment plan and are working with a relevant specialist (such as a pain management doctor) to manage or treat your condition.

  • Your joints are swollen or difficult to move at times, affecting your mobility and range of motion.

  • You are unable to perform basic activities around the house due to pain.

  • You struggle to sit or stand for long periods of time.

  • You have difficulty walking very far, or on your own.

  • You’re unable to pick up any meaningful amount of weight.

If your doctor believes that surgery could improve your condition, qualifying for Social Security disability could be harder.


My osteoarthritis meets the criteria. Now what?

If your osteoarthritis seems to meet the criteria, the next step is to apply for disability benefits. The sooner you start the process the better because the application process takes months.

If you're not sure your osteoarthritis quite meets the criteria we've outlined, here's some further guidance to help you decide what the appropriate next step is for your situation:

Apply now if:

Consider waiting and applying later if:

  • Your symptoms are moderate or are improving with treatment.

  • You have yet to stop working, even if you think you will eventually.

Probably don’t apply if:

  • Your osteoarthritis is manageable enough that you're able to keep working.

  • You make over roughly $1,550 per month (the income limit for SSDI and SSI in 2024).

Still unsure? Atticus’ disability benefits quiz can give a quick idea of what you qualify for. A member of our team will reach out to learn more about your situation and, if you'd like, match you with a disability lawyer. It's free to get matched and there's no need to work with a lawyer if you're not interested. You also won't owe anything unless you end up winning your disability benefits case.


What type of benefits should I apply for?

When it comes to disability benefits, it's possible to receive either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Both SSDI and SSI fall under the category of government programs that provide support to people who cannot work due to a medical condition. They both also offer monthly payments and health insurance — Medicare for SSDI and Medicaid for SSI — SSDI and SSI help different groups of people.

However, SSDI is for people who have worked and paid taxes for years while SSI is for those with few assets and little income. You need to earn less than about $900 of income per month and have less than $2,000 of other savings and assets to be eligible for SSI.

If you're helping a loved one apply for disability benefits, it's helpful to know which program they are likely to qualify for.


How much is a disability check for osteoarthritis?

People with osteoarthritis and similar musculoskeletal disorders receive an average payment of $1,427.22 per month in Social Security disability benefits.

While that's the average, you could receive as much as $3,822 per month for SSDI and $943 per month for SSI for your osteoarthritis, as of 2024. These are the maximum amounts you can receive regardless of what condition you qualify with or the number of conditions you eventually use to qualify.

The exact amount you receive will also depend on your work history if you're applying for SSDI, or your other sources of income if you're applying for SSI. Here's a look at how much people make on SSDI and SSI.

Estimate your disability benefit amount in just a few steps

We'll use the Social Security Administration's formula to estimate your monthly benefit.

Average
monthly check

$1,489


What if my osteoarthritis doesn’t meet the criteria?

If you don't believe your osteoarthritis meets the criteria for disability benefits outlined in this article, you can still apply for benefits. Just remember that you will need to prove through medical records that your osteoarthritis makes you unable to work.

In any case, don't be surprised if your application gets denied on your first attempt. Nearly 80% of people get turned down on their first application, even if their condition is severe. As such, persistence is important. You can appeal your denial and chances of winning an appeal are higher than they are for your initial application.

If you need further legal or financial assistance as you continue to navigate the process of applying for disability benefits Atticus has compiled resources for people with disabilities.

Increase your chances of winning benefits by three times with the help of a lawyer.

Other conditions that can qualify for disability:

Alzheimer's

Anemia

Anxiety

Arthritis

Asthma

Autism

Back pain

Bipolar disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder

Brain tumor

Breast cancer

Cancer

Carpal tunnel

Colostomy bag

Coma/Vegetative States

COPD

Crohn's disease

Depression

Diabetes

Dialysis

Epilepsy

Fibromyalgia

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Insomnia

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Kidney disease

Long Covid

Lupus

Mental illness

Migraines

Narcolepsy

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)

Panic disorder

Parkinson's

Peripheral neuropathy

PTSD

Rheumatoid Arthritis Schizophrenia

Sciatica

Sickle cell

Ulcerative colitis

See all conditions

See what you qualify for

How long has your condition made it hard to work?

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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