Is Osteoarthritis a Disability?
The answer to the question "is osteoarthritis a disability?" isn't a simple yes or no. Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear to the cartilage in your joints. Cartilage is a firm, slippery material that protects the ends of your bones and prevents them from rubbing together.
Osteoarthritis is different from rheumatoid arthritis, which happens when your immune system attacks your joints and cartilage. Osteoarthritis typically occurs in the hands, knees, hips, and spine and is a degenerative condition, which means it will worsen over time. It isn't curable, but can be managed with proper treatment.
What Are Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis often develops slowly and may initially affect only one area of the body, but it can spread to other joints. Symptoms may include the following:
- Joint pain during or after movement
- Tenderness when you apply light pressure to the joint
- Joint stiffness, especially upon waking or after long periods of inactivity
- Loss of flexibility or range of motion
- Feeling a scraping sensation when you use the affected joint
- Bone spurs
You may be at a higher risk to develop osteoarthritis if you are: over age 55, female, overweight, have existing joint injuries, have an occupation which requires repetitive motion, or have certain genetic factors.
A Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis Doesn't Automatically Qualify You for Disability
A fact that complicates the answer to the question of "is osteoarthritis a disability?" is that a diagnosis of osteoarthritis doesn't automatically qualify you for disability benefits. Like many other diseases, the insurance company does not consider osteoarthritis a disability unless it interferes with your ability to participate in normal activities or prevents you from performing the basic tasks associated with your work. Here are a few symptoms that may indicate you're eligible for long-term disability benefits.
- Inability to lift more than 10 pounds
- Difficulty grasping or picking up small objects
- Pain when sitting or standing for long periods of time
- Difficulty walking upstairs
In order to diagnose osteoarthritis, your doctor will take your personal and family histories. A physical examination will include checking your joints for tenderness, redness, swelling, and range of motion. There are a number of clinical tests that will also help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis.
- X-rays don't show cartilage, but it will show cartilage loss based on the space between your joints
- MRI tests will produce images of bones and cartilage
- Joint aspiration, in which fluid is extracted from a joint and analyzed
- Blood tests
What Is the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis can manifest itself in two ways, as a primary or secondary condition. If:
- You are diagnosed with primary osteoarthritis, the pain and symptoms you experience are most likely the result of worn cartilage.
- You have secondary osteoarthritis, it's a symptom of a separate, primary disease, such as a previous injury or inflammation caused by a different disease.
- Your symptoms are primarily associated with your lower extremities such as the hip, ankle or knee, it may impair your ability to walk without a cane or other device, limit the distance you can walk or how quickly you can walk.
- Your symptoms are primarily associated with your upper extremities, hands, wrists, elbows, or shoulders, you may not be able to perform movements such as typing, pulling, pushing, or reaching.
Filing a Disability Claim for Osteoarthritis
When preparing your disability claim, it's important to have sufficient documentation to prove your case to the insurance company. Your doctor can help you get the information you need. The insurance company may ask him or her to fill out a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) report. You should also include records from your doctor and/or hospital, test results, lab reports, details about your limitations, and a treatment history. Insurance companies prefer documentation that includes objective, measurable information.
If the insurance company feels there isn't enough evidence to verify your disability, your claim may be denied.
How Insurance Companies Determine Whether You Have a Disability
Your insurance company will assign a claims adjuster to review your disability case. They will review all documentation and may contact you or your physician if they need additional information or if there are any questions.
The adjuster will review the information to determine the extent of your limitations, the activities you are unable to perform, and the activities you are able to perform. This will determine not only if you can work at your current occupation, but if there are any jobs you can perform.
Remember, as the claimant it's your responsibility to prove that your arthritis has progressed to the extent you aren't able to work. The burden of proof lies with you.
Is Osteoarthritis a Disability? Speak to a Disability Lawyer to Learn More
At CJ Henry Law Firm, we understand that chronic pain affects your quality of life. To learn more about whether you are eligible to receive long term disability benefits for osteoarthritis. contact us today.