What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis affects more than 32 million people in the U.S. It’s the most common type of arthritis. The severity of the symptoms vary from person to person. But, people with severe symptoms may be disabled by osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis happens when the layer of cartilage that protects bones from rubbing together at joints in the body breaks down and disappears. There is no way to replace that cartilage. The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are:
- Pain: the pain of osteoarthritis can be both chronic and acute. Most people with osteoarthritis report being in varying amounts of pain most of the time.
- Stiffness. Joint stiffness might be most noticeable upon awakening or after being inactive.
- Tenderness. Your joint might feel tender when you apply light pressure to or near it.
- Loss of flexibility. You might not be able to move your joint through its full range of motion.
- Grating sensation. You might feel a grating sensation when you use the joint, and you might hear popping or crackling.
- Bone spurs. These extra bits of bone, which feel like hard lumps, can form around the affected joint.
- Swelling. This might be caused by soft tissue inflammation around the joint.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis. Symptoms typically get worse over time. Medication can help some people manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Being active, maintaining a healthy weight, and focusing on improving flexibility can also help some people manage their symptoms. If your symptoms of osteoarthritis are disabling you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
Social Security Disability for Osteoarthritis
People of any age can suffer from osteoarthritis, but as one ages the condition will likely worsen and become debilitating. One of many kinds of arthritis, osteoarthritis results in the gradual loss of cartilage, which is a tissue providing cushioning between the areas of the bones that form joints.
Cartilage plays a significant role in functioning, so cartilage loss causes serious problems including cysts and bone spurs.
With osteoarthritis, when cartilage loss gets severe your bones begin rubbing against one another which can result in intense pain. It can cause you to suffer severe mobility issues that prohibit you from functioning normally.
If your osteoarthritis results in moderate to severe symptoms that leave you unable to work, you may be eligible to receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
The SSA oversees the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, which requires you work to earn sufficient credits and pay in adequate taxes to the SSA which matches the equivalent of five of the last 10 years of full-time work. However, exceptions can be made in regards to age when it comes to the number of credits earned.
Is Osteoarthritis a Disability?
Osteoarthritis can be considered a disability by the SSA. You can get Social Security disability with osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is one of the spinal disorders mentioned that could qualify for Social disability, in order to qualify for disability with osteoarthritis that results in compromise of a nerve root (including the cauda equina) or the spinal cord with:
- For osteoarthritis, evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is involvement of the lower back, positive straight-leg raising test (sitting and supine);
- Spinal arachnoiditis that’s been confirmed by an operative note or pathology report of tissue biopsy, or by appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by severe burning or painful dysesthesia, resulting in the need for changes in position or posture more than once every 2 hours;
- Lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudoclaudication, established by findings on appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by chronic nonradicular pain and weakness, and resulting in inability to ambulate effectively
If you have osteoarthritis and your diagnosis and medical evidence matches one or more of these requirements outlined, you will be considered disabled by the SSA and can qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
How Osteoarthritis Impacts Your Ability to Work
Osteoarthritis can cause severe joint pain and limited mobility. Both of those can have a serious impact on your ability to perform your regular daily tasks, let alone work.
If you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, you most likely suffer from enlarged joints, stiffness in your joints, and severe pain.
While symptoms of osteoarthritis may start out mild, they can worsen until they become so severe that you can’t participate in activities you enjoy or do your daily chores. Some people have such severe symptoms they can’t brush their hair or button their clothes.
During the day, the stiffness in your joints may lessen, but as time passes the cartilage between the joint will thin and become unstable. Osteoarthritis may start in one joint, but it usually spreads to other joints over time.
Because of the stiffness and pain, your mobility may be impacted so much that you must use a walker or crutches to help you get around.
Osteoarthrosis Work Restrictions
If you have osteoarthritis, you may be told that there are work restrictions you need to adhere to in order to not make your osteoarthritis worse. A doctor can recommend that you not perform certain tasks that can cause the inflammation associated with osteoarthritis to damage your joints even further. Some of the common work restrictions given to people with osteoarthritis include:
- No typing or limited typing.
- No lifting anything over a certain weight limit, typically five pounds but possibly as little as two pounds.
- No walking for more than a certain distance; or requiring the use of a cane or a walker to assist in walking.
- No sitting for more than a certain period of time; or no sitting except in a very specific type of chair and only until there is pain or discomfort.
- No carrying anything over a certain weight, typically just a couple of pounds.
If you have a job that requires you to perform tasks that you are restricted from doing because of the limitations recommended by your doctor to help your osteoarthritis, and you can’t really do any other kind of work, you may qualify for disability benefits because you are unable to do any paid work. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will try to find some type of work that you can do with the limitations that your doctor has recommended. But the SSA will consider other factors besides your medical limitations like your age, your skill set, your work history, and your education.
Can I Work with Osteoarthritis?
You may be able to work with osteoarthritis if your symptoms and its effect on your body is low to mild. However, if your osteoarthritis is so severe, that you can no longer do the daily tasks of your job anymore, you may be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
Let’s say for example, you work a blue-collar job in a warehouse. One of your main functions of your job is carrying and lifting boxes.
If you have osteoarthritis in your spine, it might be more difficult now than ever to lift those boxes and perform one of the basic duties of your job.
If you have osteoarthritis and your symptoms and diagnosis seem to be getting worse, you should speak with your supervisor to see if there are any work restrictions you can be placed on so that you can continue to work.
If you are having restrictions placed on you at work due to your osteoarthritis and you still find it that you cannot work like you could before your diagnosis, then you may be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
Pain from osteoarthritis in your joints could make it difficult for you to sedentary work. You should consult with your doctor to see if you are physically unable to work with osteoarthritis.
If your doctor agrees that due to your condition that you can’t work because of your osteoarthritis, then you may be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
Limitations with Osteoarthritis for Specific Jobs
Osteoarthritis can leave in you a bad situation, so you may find yourself unable to remain in one position for a long time without the need to reposition. Because of the cartilage damage, you probably can’t lift or carry heavy items, so you can’t work as a delivery driver or mail carrier.
Since your joints in your hands and fingers are impacted, you may find yourself unable to open lids, do fingering tasks, or grasp onto small items so you can’t perform data entry, product inspection, maintenance tasks, or work in a cafeteria or restaurant.
Because of your joint pain in your hips, feet, knees, and ankles, you probably can’t work in a warehouse because of your inability to stand long periods and walk long distances so you can’t work in a warehouse or a manufacturing facility.
Joint pain in your hips and knees may make sitting long periods impossible, so you cannot perform sedentary work. The pain can make jobs such as truck driving impossible as well.
What Is A Trial Work Program?
During a trial work program, the SSA allows a disability claimant to test his or her ability to return to work force and still be considered disabled during the time.
The SSA doesn’t consider any work performed the trial work period as proof that the disability has ended, and they have been performed consistently at least 9 months – which aren’t necessarily consecutive – in a rolling 60-month period.
As of 2020, any month in which an individual works more than $910 per month is considered a month of the trial work period.
When participating in the trial work period, you will continue to receive your regular monthly disability check while also earning money from the work duties that you perform. You need to keep track of all your earnings and report them to the SSA, so they can determine if you have exceeded the amount and if the month is considered a trial work month.
If you earned only $700 that month, then you have not reached the $910 limit and that month isn’t considered one of your 9 months of the trial work period. Maintaining thorough documentation is essential to the outcome of your case and determining if you have used your trial period and if you still qualify for disability benefits.
Substantial Gainful Activity with Osteoarthritis
The SSA has substantial gainful activity (SGA) limits. When an individual works enough to earn that much money, then he or she is considered capable of working. As of 2023, the limit will go up to $1,470 and the amount for those who are blind increases to $2,460.
After an individual completes the trial work period, the claimant might try to re-enter the workforce. During the trial work period, the claimant will continue to receive disability benefits while working. After the trial period, the claimant will not receive disability benefits for any month that he or she earns what is considered SGA.
If anytime during the first five years after you have returned to work, your medical condition worsens again, you can receive disability benefits again without having to reapply. You will receive disability benefits starting right away without having to wait while your claim is being reviewed.
If you aren’t regularly receiving disability benefits because you are earning SGA, you will need to report your income on the months that you don’t attain SGA so you can receive a disability check.
Always be sure to keep track of your earnings and your hours worked, so you can provide the details to the SSA and so they can properly review your case and determine how your case should proceed.
Different Kinds of Income
There are different kinds of income that can be earned. Not everything is earned wages, such as an hourly wage or a weekly salary. However, you may earn income from passive income or from self-employment. Different kinds of income are treated differently.
You should always keep track of your earnings and work, and be able to provide the details to the SSA so you can show them where the earnings came from and so the SSA can determine whether your monthly disability benefits are affected by that source of income.
Many people have some source of passive income. Passive income is earned with little or no daily effort of the individual to maintain and earn it. Examples of passive income includes rental income or business activities in which you don’t participate actively. This could be like building a blog.
If you are self-employed, the SSA will look at more than your earnings. They will also look at the number of hours you work. In most cases, if you average about 10 hours per week, or no more than 45 hours per month while self-employed, you will be able to keep your disability benefits.
That is true just so long as you aren’t the only employee of the company and the business doesn’t have a substantial income. When your earnings are calculated, they don’t just look at the overall dollar amount of sales or transactions. A self-employed individual can claim deductions.
When you are self-employed, you can deduct your business expenses as well as any costs associated with your medical problems. As an example, the cost of your medical devices, or any special software or tools that you need to be able to work can be deducted before your earnings are determined.
So, your business earnings may be more than the SGA limit, but after the deductions are taken, you may not be making enough to be considered SGA.
Talk to a Social Security Attorney Today
If you suffer from osteoarthritis and it impacts your ability to preform your day-to-day tasks at work or at home, you may want to speak with a Social Security Attorney.
Being represented by an advocate or a disability attorney may increase your odds of having your claim approved. An attorney knows how to properly complete the claim form and will gather up all the necessary documentation to ensure your claim is adequately supported.