Arthritis causes more than just pain. It’s a leading cause of disability. A disability is a condition that limits your typical movements, senses, or activities. In severe cases, you may be unable to perform daily tasks or even stay employed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 50 million people in the United States have arthritis, which equals 24%.

When left untreated, arthritis can be debilitating. In fact, arthritis limits the activities of nearly 10% of U.S. adults. The Disability Benefits Center reports that arthritis is among the top 10 conditions that typically qualify for disability benefits.

If you have arthritis, it’s important to understand how your condition can progress and affect your daily life. This may motivate you to take action before your condition worsens.

Conscious language matters

We use person-first language when discussing disabilities unless a specific group has different identity language preferences. This means that, for example, we would say “person with a disability” instead of “disabled person.”

This is important as we strive to be inclusive and recognize that not everyone with a disability feels limited by their condition.

Find more information on our conscious language guidelines around disability here.

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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, RA can damage your joint cartilage and bones. OA happens when cartilage in your joints wears down through wear and tear.

There are more than 100 forms of arthritis. All can cause pain and inflammation.

Arthritis can lead to disability and many other mental and physical health conditions.

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 2 hours
  • grasping small objects with your hands
  • lifting 10 pounds or more
  • holding your arms up

You might also suspect 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 1 in 10 adults is limited in their ability to work because of arthritis, though the actual number may be higher.

Arthritis can cause disability in many ways:

Pain and immobility

Pain, a noticeable symptom of arthritis, occurs when cartilage in your joints breaks down and your bones rub against each other. It may also be caused by swelling and inflammation. 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 and reduce your overall mobility. Lack of mobility is a common feature of physical disability. Having overweight makes you more likely to experience arthritis-related pain and mobility problems.


In addition to pain, a person with arthritis may experience chronic fatigue. When fatigue is severe enough, it can be disabling.

A person living with arthritis and experiencing severe fatigue should see a doctor to rule out conditions that can manifest similarly. This includes:

  • anemia
  • low thyroid function
  • virus-related conditions like long-COVID

A person may experience rheumatic symptoms from COVID-19 that they didn’t have before. Or, a person who is already living with arthritis may see their symptoms worsen after developing COVID-19.

Skin and organs

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

  • excessive fatigue
  • breathing difficulties
  • fever
  • kidney damage

These symptoms can also make daily tasks harder and, in some cases, make you seriously ill.

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 into your routine. For example, consider:

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

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 annual cost of arthritis in medical spending and wage loss equals about $303.5 billion.

Here you’ll find some answers to additional, common questions about arthritis and disability.

What are government benefits programs for disability?

You may be able to collect Social Security Disability Insurance if you qualify. You may also qualify for Supplemental Security Income based on your specific need. You can apply for both programs online. You may also qualify for disability insurance through Medicare.

Can private insurance pay for arthritis disability?

You may be able to get disability payments if you’re unable to work and your employer offers a private insurance plan. But not everyone has access to this option. Only about one-third of people working in the private sector have access to disability income-protection coverage.

How to qualify for disability if you have arthritis?

According to the Disability Benefits Center, to qualify for disability benefits, you need to prove that you can’t work and that your symptoms are expected to last for at least a year. You’ll need to provide medical and financial documentation before approval. Private insurance companies may have other requirements.

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

If you suspect you have arthritis, make an appointment with your doctor. If arthritis makes 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.