Is Arthritis a Disability? How to Get Disability Benefits for Arthritis

Social Security Disability Benefits can be obtained by individuals with a wide range of disabilities, diseases, and conditions. While you’d certainly expect the loss of a limb or cancer to prevent someone from working, you might be surprised to learn that other less visible or non-fatal conditions can also impede productive work and allow individuals to collect SSDI. For example, arthritis sufferers will often find that their ability to work is impacted. According to the SSA, is arthritis a disability?

5 Types of Arthritis That May Qualify for SSDI Benefits

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Psoriatic Arthritis
  • Juvenile Arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gout

You might be surprised to learn that 23% of adults have some type of arthritis, which means that roughly 54 million people are affected. Almost half of those adults report face a physical disability, even if it’s limited, because of that arthritis, and around 25% of arthritis sufferers experience moderate to severe arthritis pain. There are two common types of arthritis: rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Like most autoimmune conditions, the exact cause is unknown but it might be genetic. It’s an internal development of the body where the immune system turns against its own body, often attacking one organ. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis patients, it attacks the joints and the connective tissue around them, resulting in persistent inflammation and chronic pain.

By contrast, osteoarthritis is when the cartilage ligaments in the joints wear out over time, often due to some repeated mechanical motion, such as climbing, lifting, or walking. Even for sedentary work, joint damage can occur over time from activities like typing or playing music. You might think that playing sports could cause joint damage, and sometimes—especially in high contact or intense sports—it can. Actually, obesity and age are some of the leading causes. Extra weight puts strain on joints that are already naturally weakening. In fact, healthy amounts of exercise can be preventive, because it strengthens the supporting muscle around the joint.

Joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and immobility are the effects of arthritis of either type. To that end, they constitute a disability that can prevent someone from continuing their gainful employment. Activities that become difficult may include walking up stairs, walking for long periods, standing, or sitting, grasping objects, lifting, and holding the arms up. Even someone with a job in a cubicle can become severely limited because of arthritis. Arthritis symptoms can be treated, but not reversed, making it a long term disability.

Can I Collect Disability Benefits for Arthritis?

You might be wondering: Since arthritis is so common, can you obtain Social Security disability benefits because of it? Yes, you can, if arthritis makes it impossible for you to work. In order to determine if an applicant’s disability is covered by SSDI, the Social Security Administration checks it against information found in the Blue Book, which provides an extensive list of medical conditions and their symptoms. When you apply for SSDI, the SSA will compare the medical evidence you have provided against the explicit definitions and terms of the Blue Book to see if they match.

Rheumatoid, Psoriatic, and other autoimmune-related joint diseases are discussed under the Inflammatory Arthritis section. Individuals can collect SSDI if they have a deformity or persistent inflation of one major weight bearing joint like a knee, hip, or ankle, and one peripheral joint like the elbow, fingers, wrists, or shoulders. Involuntary weight loss, fever, severe fatigue, and severe immobility can also qualify since each one of these issues is a related condition.

Osteoarthritis falls under spine or joint issues. SSDI eligibility can be proven with nerve root entrapment or compression resulting in severe neurological effects in the extremities, pain, weakness, or immobility from a narrowing of the spinal canal, or inflammation around the spinal cord that makes it difficult to maintain a given position for two hours.

Joint dysfunction is another category into which SSDI applicants can fall if they are unable to move effectively due to arthritis in their ankles, hips, or knees or they cannot perform their normal tasks due to arthritis in the hand, wrist, or shoulder.

There are other types of arthritis not mentioned in the Blue Book specifically, but according to the SSA benefits can be granted if an applicant satisfies the residual functional capacity (RFC). The RFC gauges a person’s daily limitations to see if a condition prevents them from doing the work they were used to doing. Usually, this is most applicable to individuals in labor intensive jobs. However, if an applicant can document that depression, sleep disturbance, or concentration issues are also impacting their work negatively, even if the nature of their work is sedentary, they can also qualify for SSDI.

5 Types of Arthritis That May Qualify for SSDI Benefits

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of inflammatory arthritis. This autoimmune disorder results in swollen and painful joints, commonly in the wrists and hands on both sides of the body. Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis can affect other parts of the body as well, resulting in low red blood cell counts and inflammation around the heart and lungs, which in turn can result in fever and low energy. Rheumatoid arthritis can come and go in a patient, but over time, it can even result in deformation or shifting of the limbs, along with other medical complications like lung disease and even lymphoma cancer.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis yet another type of inflammatory arthritis impacting as many as 30% of individuals with psoriasis—an autoimmune condition resulting in dry, itchy, and inflamed skin that is often discolored red or purple. Psoriatic arthritis associated with this skin condition results in swollen limbs or digits, which can carry a sausage-like appearance. The nails on hands or feet may also become discolored, thick, or even detached from the nailbed. Psoriatic arthritis is frequently misdiagnosed by doctors because they may be looking for signs of rheumatoid arthritis. One related condition of psoriatic arthritis is an inflammation of the eye, called uveitis.

Juvenile Arthritis

Juvenile arthritis—also called childhood arthritis—is any type of arthritis experienced by individuals under the age of 16. However, juvenile arthritis most likely won’t relate to SSDI, because SSDI is based on a system of SSDI credits that make one eligible to receive SSDI benefit payments. Juveniles under the age of 18 would not have a sufficient work history to collect SSDI.

However, they may be able to collect SSI. However, the eligibility for SSI benefits for minors is dependent on the income and financial resources of their parents, so if their legal guardians make too much money or have too many assets, their children cannot collect SSI even if they meet the requirements.


Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative arthritis, is the most common form of arthritis, and it happens when the joints wear down over time. The end of the bones—where they meet at joints—are protected in a cushion of cartilage that can wear down over time. Joints in the hands, knees, hips, and spine are the most commonly affected joints. Though osteoarthritis cannot be reversed, it can be managed with exercise, maintaining a healthy weight to avoid undue burden on the joints, and select treatments guided by a Rheumatologists or orthopedist.

The wear and tear that certain forms of repetitive work place on a person’s joints can result in pain, stiffness, tenderness, swelling, a grating sensation at the joint, and even bone spurs—that is, hard lumps of extra bone that form around the joint.  As mentioned, while osteoarthritis can occur from mechanical wear and tear, obesity and age are other factors, so even someone with a sedentary occupation can suffer from this type of arthritis.


Gout is a common arthritis that has not been linked to a particular genetic disposition or behavioral pattern. In other words, it can occur to anyone. Gout comes as a sudden and severe attack of pain, swelling, and tenderness. It frequently occurs at the end of the toes, especially the big toe. Doctors believe that diet may play a large role in causing goat, as certain foods with a large amount of purines (like meat, seafood, and alcohol) cause the body to produce extra uric acid to break it down, and uric crystals then become lodged in the extremities, causing pain particularly at night. Some individuals suffering from a sudden onset of gout in the middle of the night have even reported that the weight of their bed sheet is unbearable due to the swelling in their toe.

How do I prove that I have arthritis?

Like any other instance of applying for SSDI, you will need to furnish medical documentation and personal records indicating your work history as part of your application. In some instances, the SSA may require you to take a medical examination. While arthritis is an internal condition, its external manifestations can be very evident. It is a well documented and common disability, so if you feel any of the symptoms associated with arthritis, you should seek medical attention, such as a consultation with your primary care physician.

If your arthritis disability does not meet the Blue Book requirements, remember that it is still possible to collect long term disability benefits if you have provided the requisite medical evidence. If chronic pain is creating a functional disability at your work, but you do not meet the arthritis diagnosis of the SSA, you can obtain a medical vocational allowance. The SSA will assess what type of work you would be able to do with arthritis pain, which is called your reasonable functional capacity (RFC). If the SSA determines that you cannot, in fact, reasonably do any work, you will be approved for your disability claim.

In some cases, even if you furnish the requisite documentation, the SSA will deny your request for SSDI benefits. In these cases, it might benefit you to seek the help of a Social Security Disability Attorney as you initiate an appeals process, which can take months or years before seeing a resolution.

Disability Benefits for Arthritis

Arthritis may not seem to prevent someone from working as much as a missing limb of a severe illness, but it can make working almost impossible because of the pain it causes and the way it severely reduces mobility. In this way, arthritis is very much an invisible disability. But at the same time, as mentioned, it can have very visible signs such as redness and swelling. It can certainly impede someone’s ability to work because of stiffness, soreness, and pain, both in terms of moving and even sitting still for a longer period of time.

Arthritis needs to be taken seriously. You cannot just take aspirin and call it a day. You need an assessment from a medical professional. If you are not proactive about seeking medical attention, it could delay your case for SSDI benefits, which already take several months to process.