Every day in my practice, I talk to people whose disabilities affect them in many different ways. My clients who suffer from arthritis usually have pain all over their bodies, and that pain keeps them from being able to function in their daily lives. My clients' complaints include pain in their hands and fingers, in their backs, in their joints, and in parts of their bodies they injured a long time ago. If you have arthritis, you may have difficulty holding a cup, picking up coins, or buttoning your shirt. You may also have pain that keeps you from being able to sit, stand, or walk for extended periods of time. If you are unable to perform these basic activities, you likely are unable to do many of the tasks required in order to obtain and maintain full-time employment. Therefore, the Social Security Administration (SSA) does recognize arthritis as a disabling condition, and it may be in your best interest to apply for disability benefits if your arthritis keeps you from being able to work.
"Arthritis" is a broad term for inflammation of the joints, usually because the cartilage in that joint has broken down. However, there are many types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, but there are other types of arthritis caused by autoimmune disorders, broken bones, or infection. Regardless of the cause, people with arthritis usually suffer from symptoms including, but not limited to:
- Joint pain
- Joint swelling
- Impaired movement of the joint
- Joint stiffness
The SSA has a Listing of Impairments in which it describes specific diagnoses, findings, and symptoms for conditions it deems to be disabling. Two sections of the Listings address arthritis: Listing 1.02: Major Dysfunction of a Joint; and the various listings under 14.00: Immune System Disorders, including 14.02: Systemic Lupus Erhthematosus, 14.04: Systemic Sclerosis, and 14.09: Inflammatory Arthritis. In order to be found disabled under the Listings, your medical records must show that you meet or equal the criteria set out in an individual listing.
Even if you do not meet one of Social Security's Listings, you may still be found disabled if your arthritis symptoms keep you from being able to perform work. During the application process, you will have the opportunity to explain to the SSA how your pain and decreased mobility keep you from being able to do normal daily activities, but you will also need to have medical records to back up your statements. Social Security will look at x-rays, MRIs, and doctors' notes. They will also consider the medications you are taking, treatment you have received, and any surgeries or procedures you have had. In representing my clients, I have found that statements from your treating physicians regarding your symptoms and physical limitations can be very helpful in proving to Social Security that you are disabled. Those statements are even more helpful when they come from specialists, such as orthopedists or rheumatologists, who have been treating you on a regular basis. Good medical records can be the key to winning a Social Security disability claim.