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How Disabling is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA), sometimes called degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis, affects approximately 31 million adults in the United States. The symptoms of osteoarthritis vary greatly from person to person. Arthritis is the number one cause of disability. In fact, one-third of working-age people with arthritis have limitations in their ability to work.

If you have osteoarthritis and if you are unable to earn a gainful living as a result, there could be financial help available to you. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program was created to assist those who have become disabled due to an illness such as osteoarthritis.

What Exactly Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a common joint disease that tends to affect middle-aged and older adults. In a healthy joint, a firm and spongy substance cartilage covers the end of each bone. This cartilage provides a cushion between bones and also offers a smooth surface so that bones may glide. For those with OA, the cartilage of the joint breaks down, causing pain, swelling, stiffness, and difficulty moving. In severe cases, bone spurs may form around the affected joint.

Osteoarthritis mainly attacks the weight-bearing joints of the body such as the hips, lower back, and knees. It can also affect the joints of the hands and toes. The risk of OA increases with age and women are more likely to develop the disease. Additionally, those who are overweight or have had a previous injury to the joint are at higher risk.

Osteoarthritis Social Security Benefits

Osteoarthritis is considered a progressive disease, meaning that for most people it tends to get worse over time. This means that many people may not qualify for Social Security benefits after an initial diagnosis, but may later qualify as a disease progresses. While there is no reversal of the disease, there are many possible treatments to help slow the progression and severity. Possible therapies include medications, diet modifications, and physical therapy. Self-care such as weight loss and exercise are often recommended. For advanced cases, joint surgery is sometimes an option.

What Can I Expect?

You can expect a range of symptoms when you have osteoarthritis, and they all might affect your ability to work. Here are some signs that you may qualify for Social Security benefits:

  • Osteoarthritis tends to affect the weight-bearing joints. Therefore, if your job requires that you bend, lift, or spend an extended amount of time on your feet and you have difficulty doing so, you may qualify for disability benefits. For example, working in construction, in a warehouse, as a postal worker, a healthcare provider, or in retail may prove challenging if you suffer from osteoarthritis.
  • Persistent swelling or pain might make it difficult to perform many tasks with your arms and hands. In fact, some people have difficult putting on their socks and shoes due to hand pain. Fine motor skills such as typing or writing could be difficult as well.
  • Pain, stiffness, or difficulty moving could affect your mobility, making tasks like walking or driving very difficult. You may need to use a cane, walker, or wheelchair to get around. Some people require assistance getting in or out of a car. If you have difficulty with mobility issues, you may be eligible for financial assistance.
  • If your doctor puts you on medications for osteoarthritis, you may experience some side effects that may affect your quality of life.
  • Pain medications may cause side-effects such as fatigue, fogginess, or loss of balance. For patients with OA that might already have difficulty walking, these symptoms may increase the risk of falls.
  • NSAIDS used to reduce inflammation and pain may cause severe stomach problems such as heartburn, acid reflux, nausea, and in severe cases, kidney problems and bleeding from the lining of your stomach.
  • In some cases, steroids, such as Prednisone, are prescribed for severe OA flare-ups. While steroids help to relieve swelling, they can cause side effects such as high blood pressure, high blood sugars, and stomach ulcers.

Do I Qualify for Benefits?

To be eligible for Social Security benefits for osteoarthritis, your medical records will need to show that your symptoms are severe enough to prevent you from working at a level which would support you. Additionally, your OA needs to be expected to be disabling for at least 12 months. Osteoarthritis is a progressive illness that is unlikely to get better over time. Therefore, if you have not qualified in the past and your symptoms have progressed, you might qualify now.

What Information Will I Need to Provide?

When applying for Social Security for OA, medical documentation is critical. You should obtain the following:

  • Confirmation of your diagnosis of OA from a doctor.
  • Blood tests confirming inflammation in your body, which may include a positive ANA or a positive rheumatoid factor test.
  • X-rays, MRIs, or other imaging results that may help to confirm your diagnosis of OA. If your MRI can demonstrate joint space narrowing or bone fusion, you may have a higher chance of being approved for benefits.
  • Surgical notes from an Orthopedic physician.
  • Notes from your doctor, physical therapist, or other health care provider that describe your symptoms and illness.

Building a relationship with your physician is extremely helpful when applying for Social Security benefits. The more documentation that you have available to you, the better your odds of receiving SSDI assistance for OA.

What’s Next?

If you have Osteoarthritis and believe that you may qualify for Social Security benefits, you should contact a disability advocate or lawyer in your area. When your health is suffering, it can be difficult to know where to turn or what to do next. A qualified attorney can help you navigate the Social Security application process, leaving you time to focus on what’s most important: your health.