Ankylosing spondylitis may sometimes be severe enough to cause you to stop working. If you meet specific requirements, you may qualify for disability benefits.

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a progression of spondyloarthritis, which is arthritis of the spine. It affects the joints and ligaments that surround your backbone. The disease sometimes also affects other organs or joints like your hips, knees, and ankles.

Like many other kinds of arthritis, you might have times when you’re stiff and sore and other times when you have no symptoms. But if you have severe AS that makes it too challenging to work, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Qualifying for disability benefits can be a long and complex process, and you must meet specific criteria. Here’s some information to get you started.

Most people with AS have back pain and stiffness sometimes. But severe AS can cause chronic, intense pain and stiffness. It may even cause the bones of your spine to fuse.

Because this fusion can cause your back to become rigid and inflexible, you may have difficulty moving or bending. It’s not common, but you may also develop related conditions like:

Quick facts: Ankylosing spondylitis and work

  • In a 2019 study, 13.6% of people (about 1 in 7) with AS reported missing work due to symptoms during a 12-month period.
  • About one-third of people with AS stop working earlier than is typical, especially those in jobs with significant physical demands.
  • While exact rates vary by region, people with AS more often switch to less demanding jobs or retire early when compared with people who don’t have AS.
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If AS disrupts your daily life and makes it hard to keep working, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits. But you must meet the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s criteria.

You’ll also need medical staff to document any symptoms you have that match the SSA’s description in the Immune Disorders section. The SSA classifies it as spondyloarthropathy.

It can take a long time to qualify. The SSA may reject your claim, and you may need to file an appeal.

Here are some of the SSA criteria to qualify:

  • A qualifying condition must have lasted a year, be expected to last at least a year, or be expected to result in death.
  • You must not earn above a certain threshold each month.
  • You must have at least one significant impairment.

Examples of qualifying issues may include:

  • inflammation or structural changes of major joints that restrict movement and work
  • other affected organs
  • spinal fixation of 30 degrees or more

You’ll need documentation of medical treatment, medication, surgery, or other healthcare you’ve gotten because of your condition. You’ll also need names and contact information for your healthcare team.

Along with meeting the government’s definition of a “disability,” the SSA has strict guidelines on who can qualify for benefits. You must have worked in jobs covered by Social Security. You must also have worked long enough and recently enough to qualify.

Once you qualify, there’s usually a 5-month waiting period. Disability payments begin the sixth full month after the SSA finds your disability began. But the SSA may pay you retroactively for up to a full year of additional benefits if it finds you had a disability during that time.

Generally, the SSA pays you disability until you begin working again. If you become able to work again, it offers work incentives, including healthcare coverage and other perks.

Apply online for SSA benefits here.

Application checklist

To apply for disability online, you’ll need:

  • medical documentation of your condition
  • records of previous employment
  • information about household members

You can view a complete checklist on the SSA website.

You can also choose someone to represent you. Some people choose an attorney. You don’t have to, but your representative must meet certain criteria.

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Can you work with ankylosing spondylitis?

AS affects everyone differently. It may cause some people sporadic pain that passes and doesn’t impair work or everyday activities. In others, it may be more severe, causing chronic pain and making them unable to work.

Is ankylosing spondylitis a permanent disability?

Depending on the severity of AS, it may affect you mildly, or it may become a permanent disability. It depends on the progression. Working with a doctor or healthcare professional and getting regular checkups can help you manage symptoms and disease progression.

Do people with ankylosing spondylitis retire early?

Many people with AS decide to stop working sooner than they otherwise would due to progressive symptoms. Still, many others continue to work until typical retirement age.

AS is a type of spondyloarthritis (arthritis of the spine). While most people with AS live typical lives and have a regular life and work span, the disease can sometimes become severe enough to prevent you from working.

If so, you may qualify for disability payments from the government, but you must meet specific criteria first. You’ll also need medical documentation.