How Osteoarthritis Can Qualify You for Disability Benefits
July 28, 2023 · 5 min read
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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.
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.
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
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:
You've been diagnosed with and treated for osteoarthritis.
Your symptoms make you unable to work, even with treatment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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