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How Does Social Security Determine if My Osteoarthritis is Disabling?

December 29, 2020

disability benefits for osteoartitis of the handsOsteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that can affect any joint in the body, including in the hands. The cartilage between the joints slowly starts to wear down, causing the bones to rub together without a cushion.

This rubbing can result in mild inflammation, stiffness and pain. While most people with osteoarthritis can function with minimal discomfort, it can also be severe enough to impact one’s ability to function at work. When this happens, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits. 

Our attorneys at Dayes Law Firm are prepared to help ensure that your disability claim is thorough in order to increase your chances of approval. An initial case review is free and there are no upfront costs to hire our firm. You pay nothing unless we help obtain benefits for you.

Understanding How Osteoarthritis Affects the Hands

When people develop osteoarthritis in the hands, it is usually in the base of the thumb, where the thumb and wrist meet, in one of the joints closest to the fingertips or in the middle joint of a finger.

Symptoms often associated with hand osteoarthritis include:

  • Pain and stiffness
  • Swelling and redness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Trouble moving the fingers
  • Bony growths on the bones

The swelling and breakdown of cartilage and bone can also change the shape of the joints and make them enlarged. People who develop osteoarthritis at the base of their thumb commonly experience a deep aching in that area. This can affect the ability to grasp objects and perform other fine motor skills.

Treatment for hand osteoarthritis may include pain medications, physical therapy, steroid injections or a splint, brace or sleeve to hold the hand in a stable position to alleviate pain.

Qualifying for Disability Under SSA Blue Book

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has specific criteria your osteoarthritis diagnosis must meet to qualify for disability benefits, such as anatomical deformity of joints, loss of range of motion and pain.

Osteoarthritis is not actually listed in the SSA Blue Book, but the condition may be covered in the Musculoskeletal section 1.00. To meet the listing for having a major disfunction of a joint, you must have a history of joint pain and stiffness as well as a loss of motion in the joint. Your osteoarthritis must make it extremely difficult to use both of your hands effectively to complete everyday tasks, such as preparing a meal and feeding yourself, or sorting and handling papers or files.

What if My Osteoarthritis Does Not Meet the Criteria?

If your osteoarthritis does not meet the criteria under the SSA Blue Book, you may be able to qualify for disability benefits if you can show that you cannot work.

The SSA will look at your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC assessment is used to determine the kind of work you can still perform despite your limitations due to osteoarthritis. Your age, education and work experience will be considered. The older you are and fewer job skills you have, the SSA will likely not expect you to learn a new job, increasing your chances at obtaining disability benefits.

People with severe hand osteoarthritis often have fine motor impairments, making them more likely to be deemed more impaired than those who only have gross motor impairments. There are fewer jobs available for someone with fine motor impairments. For instance, if you have severe hand osteoarthritis, you may be unable to type, file, or write or do any of these tasks without taking a long time to do so.

Although most people with osteoarthritis typically do not have gross motor impairments, meaning issues with the use of their arms or legs, there are very few jobs that can be performed without the use of fine motor skills. When certain weather conditions make osteoarthritis symptoms worse, this can place further limitations on the kind of work that can be done.

It is important to note that If accommodations can be made to make it easier to complete tasks, such as wearing a hand brace, you may not qualify for disability.

Medical Evidence Needed After an Osteoarthritis Diagnosis

Not everyone with an osteoarthritis diagnosis may be awarded disability payments. Many eligible people with osteoarthritis may be denied benefits due to a lack of sufficient medical evidence.

This is why it is important to have an experienced attorney by your side. A Phoenix-based Social Security Disability attorney from our firm is prepared to help gather your complete medical history and records from your treating doctor(s). 

Relevant medical documentation detailing your symptoms and the progression of your disease should include, but is not limited to:

  • An explanation of how any joints involved, such as in the hand, affects your fine motor skills
  • Any pain you experience related to movement
  • Any difficulties you have preparing a meal, feeding yourself, showering, etc.
  • X-rays, CT scans or other imaging results that confirm the severity of your osteoarthritis
  • Medications you are taking, including dosage amounts, to provide pain relief
  • Any side effects you have experienced with your medications
  • Physical or occupational therapy received and how often it is needed
  • Changes to your personal and/or work life due to your osteoarthritis

Request a Free Consultation to Get Started

Dayes Law Firm is ready to help you prepare a disability claim and make sure that you meet the SSA’s requirements. An initial consultation is 100 percent free and confidential. You are not obligated to retain our services, but if you do, we charge nothing up front unless we help you obtain disability benefits.

We are available 24/7 to take your call at 1-800-503-2000

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