Can You Get Disability Benefits for Osteoarthritis?

If you suffer from osteoarthritis, should you apply for disability benefits? After all, osteoarthritis is a painful, degenerative type of arthritis that can make prolonged physical activity and work difficult or impossible for patients. Sometimes the condition becomes so severe and limiting that people with osteoarthritis are forced to stop working. But if you leave the professional world, how can you make ends meet, especially if you’re a single person or your spouse or family members don’t make enough money to support you?

If your osteoarthritis is so hard to manage that leaving the workforce is a must, you may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. If you have worked long enough and paid FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes, you may be eligible. But before you apply, it’s important that you understand the evaluation process for Social Security Disability. Doing so can help you start the application phase and ultimately reach a successful outcome.

Woman's hands with arthritis
Andrew Bret Wallis / Getty Images

The Disability Evaluation Process

Evaluation criteria based on symptoms are slightly different for the various types of arthritis. For example, persistent swelling is a symptom that characterizes inflammatory types of arthritis but not osteoarthritis. The sequence of five steps that determine eligibility for SSD is the same, though. Whether you qualify depends on how you answer the following questions.

Are you still working? Does your condition prevent you from performing basic work activity at the level which the Social Security Administration defines as a substantial gainful activity?

Is your condition severe? Is your condition expected to last for 12 continuous months or more?

Is your condition on the Listing of Impairments? Is your condition among the many categories of medical conditions that Social Security considers to be severe enough to prevent a person from working?

Can you do any work you have done in the past? Do you have the ability to perform past work despite your current impairment?

Can you do any other type of work? Considering your medical condition, age, education, and past work experience, do you have skills that could be used to do other work?

Specific Requirements for Osteoarthritis

Generally, with regard to musculoskeletal conditions, the Social Security Administration says, “The functional criteria are based on impairment-related physical limitations in your ability to use both upper extremities, one or both lower extremities, or a combination of one upper and one lower extremity. The required impairment-related physical limitation of musculoskeletal functioning must have lasted, or be expected to last, for a continuous period of at least 12 months.”​

People with degenerative osteoarthritis qualify if they have significant limitations while using hands or arms, or while standing or walking. People with spine osteoarthritis must have persistent sensory changes as well.

For more information about qualifying for disability benefits for osteoarthritis, consult a support group for patients and see if they have any professional resources available to you or members who’ve successfully completed the disability process.

1 Source
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  1. Social Security Administration. Disability evaluation under Social Security. 1.00 musculoskeletal disorders - adult.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer who covers arthritis and chronic illness. She is the author of "The Everything Health Guide to Arthritis."