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When Is Arthritis a Disability?

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  • Arthritis can make daily life harder

    Arthritis can make daily life harder

    Arthritis causes more than just pain. It’s also a leading cause of disability.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 50 million Americans have arthritis. Arthritis limits the activities of nearly 10 percent of American adults. 

    When left untreated, arthritis can be debilitating. Even with treatment, some cases of arthritis lead to disability. If you have arthritis, it’s important to understand how your condition can progress and affect your daily life. This may give you the motivation you need to take action now, before your condition gets worse.

  • Types of arthritis

    Types of arthritis

    There are two main types of arthritis: rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA). RA is an autoimmune condition that occurs when your immune system attacks the lining of your joints. Over time, it can damage your joint cartilage and bones. OA happens when cartilage in your joints wears down through wear and tear.

    In total, there are over 100 forms of arthritis. All types can cause pain and inflammation.

  • Pain and immobility

    Pain and immobility

    Pain is a noticeable symptom of arthritis. It occurs when cartilage in your joints breaks down and allows your bones rub against each other. You can experience arthritis-related pain in any joint in your body, including your: 

    • shoulders
    • elbows
    • wrists
    • finger knuckles
    • hips
    • knees
    • ankles
    • toe joints
    • spine

    This pain can limit your range of motion. Eventually, it can reduce your overall mobility. Lack of mobility is a common feature of physical disability. If you’re overweight, you’re more likely to experience arthritis-related pain and mobility problems.

  • Other symptoms

    Other symptoms

    Joint pain isn’t the only symptom of arthritic conditions. For example, RA can cause skin rashes and organ problems. Gout can cause the skin around your joints to become painfully inflamed. Lupus can cause a variety of debilitating symptoms, including:

    • excessive fatigue
    • breathing difficulties
    • fever

    These symptoms can also make daily tasks harder.

  • Disability


    Arthritis can lead to disability, as can many other mental and physical health conditions. You have a disability when a condition limits your normal movements, senses, or activities.

    Your level of disability depends on the activities you find difficult to complete. For example, you may have trouble:

    • walking up stairs
    • walking for 1/4 mile
    • standing or sitting for two hours
    • grasping small objects with your hands
    • lifting 10 pounds or more
    • holding your arms up 

    Your doctor may diagnose you with a specific work or social limitation.

  • Work can be painful

    Work can be painful

    You might suspect you have an arthritis-related disability if your condition interferes with your work. Arthritis can make physically demanding jobs difficult. It can even make office work harder.

    The CDC reports that one in 20 working-age adults is limited in their ability to work for pay due to arthritis. One in three working-age adults with arthritis experiences such limitations. These statistics are based on people who report having arthritis diagnosed by a doctor. The actual number may be higher.

  • Costs and economic consequences

    Costs and economic consequences

    A disabling health condition can quickly deplete your bank account. It can reduce your ability to make a living. It can also be expensive to treat and manage.

    According to the CDC, the total cost of arthritis and other rheumatoid conditions in the United States was about $128 billion in 2003. This includes more than $80 billion in direct costs, such as medical treatments. It also includes $47 billion in indirect costs, such as lost income.

  • Importance of treatment

    Importance of treatment

    To lower your risk of disability, take steps to treat your arthritis early. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, medications, surgery, or other treatments. In many cases, regular exercise can help.

    With your doctor’s consent, include low-impact workouts in your routine. For example, try:

    • walking
    • riding a stationary bike
    • water aerobics
    • tai chi
    • strength training with light weights
  • A joint effort

    A joint effort

    Disability poses significant challenges to people with arthritis. Early detection and treatment can help you prevent it. Ignoring your symptoms will only worsen your long-term outlook.

    If you suspect you have arthritis, make an appointment with your doctor. If arthritis is making it hard to complete daily tasks, you may have developed an arthritis-related disability. Ask your doctor for more information about disability laws and support resources. You may qualify for special accommodations to help you manage your condition.