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Social Security and Osteoarthritis

Social Security and Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and it is caused when the cartilage around joints that provides cushioning between bones wears down. Once the bones begin to rub against each other, the friction can cause bone spurs and cysts. Symptoms include loss of joint motion, stiffness, pain, and changes in the shape of joints that are affected. Although any joint can be involved, osteoarthritis most commonly affects hips, hands, knees, spine, and feet.

At this time, there is no cure for osteoarthritis, and the condition tends to deteriorate over time. Understandably, people who suffer from osteoarthritis wonder if their condition will qualify them for disability benefits through Social Security, either in the form of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Osteoarthritis can—and often does—limit an individual’s ability to work or perform simple daily tasks.

As with all disabling conditions, Social Security provides criteria that must be met to qualify for benefits. Osteoarthritis is not specifically mentioned in the Blue Book, but the condition is covered in the musculoskeletal and inflammatory arthritis sections.

If you apply for disability benefits on the basis of your osteoarthritis, you will need your doctor’s help. You will need to provide a complete medical history of your condition and how it affects your ability to work. Your doctor’s records must include your presenting symptoms, the progression of your disease, and the results of a full physical examination.

The notes on your physical examination should include explanations of any weight-bearing joints whose deterioration affects your mobility, explanations of any peripheral joints that affect your gross and fine motor movements, and explanations of any visible deformities of your joints or joint instability.

He or she should also note any of the following: 1) your ability to travel without a companion to and from work; 2) difficulties with banking, grocery shopping, preparing meals, and personal hygiene; 3) any required use of assistive devices, such as a cane or walker; 4) any inability to walk reasonable distances or use stairs; 5) any pain experienced related to your movements; 6) X-rays, CT scans, and MRI results to help confirm a diagnosis or the severity of arthritis; and 7) if applicable, any surgical records from an orthopedic surgeon.

Additionally, be sure to have your treating physician document any medications you take and their dosages, any side effects that you experience as a result of those medications, how often you take required medication, any physical or occupational therapy you must undergo, and any life changes that have occurred as a result of your osteoarthritis.

Generally speaking, the greater the detail that your doctor provides about your osteoarthritis and how it limits you, the more your chances of being approved for disability benefits improve. Even if you do not meet the criteria of the Blue Book, you may still qualify by using the residual functioning capacity (RFC) form where your doctor specifies your limitations, your symptoms, and your treatment.