Will I Qualify for Philadelphia Disability Benefits Due to Arthritis or Joint Problems?

Arthritis and joint problems are two of the leading causes of disability in Philadelphia and nationwide.  Our Philadelphia disability clients often ask us: “How does a person suffering from arthritis or joint problems qualify for Philadelphia Social Security disability benefits?”

If you have joint pain or damage from any cause, including arthritis, you may be able to receive Philadelphia Social Security disability benefits.

How the Social Security Administration evaluates arthritis and joint damage in Philadelphia disability cases

To determine whether you are disabled by your arthritis or joint problems, the Social Security Administration, in Philadelphia and nationwide, first considers whether your joint problems are severe enough to meet or equal the listing for joint dysfunction.  This query is Step 3 of the Social Security Administration’s Sequential Evaluation Process.

For most common impairments, including arthritis and joint damage, the Social Security Administration has developed a set of rules called the Listing of Impairments.  The listing for a particular impairment describes a degree of severity that the Social Security Administration presumes would prevent a person from performing substantial work.  If your joint pain or immobility is severe enough to meet or equal the listing, you will be considered disabled.

The Social Security listing for joint dysfunction is §1.02.  This listing has 2 parts: A and B.  You will meet the listing and be eligible for Philadelphia Social Security disability benefits if you meet either of the two parts.

Both parts of listing 1.02 require you to have the followng:

  • Major dysfunction of a joint due to any cause;
  • Characterized by gross anatomical deformity (e.g., subluxation, contracture, bony or fibrous ankylosis, instability); and
  • Chronic joint pain and stiffness; with
  • Signs of limitation of motion or other abnormal motion of the affected joint(s); and
  • Findings on appropriate medically acceptable imaging of joint space narrowing, bony destruction, or ankylosis of the affected joint(s).

In addition to all of the above requirements, you must meet either part A or part B’s additional requirements, which are as follows:

Part A.  Part A requires the involvement of one major peripheral weight-bearing joint (i.e., hip, knee, or ankle), resulting in “inability to ambulate effectively.”  The inability to ambulate effectively, as defined by listing 1.00B, is the extreme limitation of your ability to walk, which would interfere very seriously with your ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.

Listing 1.00B characterizes ineffective ambulation as “insufficient lower extremity functioning” that does not permit independent ambulation “without the use of a hand-held assistive device(s) that limits the functioning of both upper extremities.”  From reading this, you would think that the Social Security Administration requires a Philadelphia disability claimant to either use a walker or two canes to meet the listing’s criteria.  However, the Social Security Administration has recognized that individuals with extreme inability to ambulate do not necessarily use assistive devices, and that the use of a walker, cane or crutch is not a requirement to meet the listing.  The key is whether you can walk a block at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces.  If no, you are likely disabled in the Social Security Administration’s eyes.

Part B.  Part B requires the involvement of one major peripheral joint in each upper extremity (i.e., shoulder, elbow, or wrist-hand), resulting in inability to perform fine and gross movements effectively.  The inability to perform fine and gross movements is an extreme loss of function of both upper extremities, which would interfere very seriously with your ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.  Examples of inability to perform fine and gross movements include, but are not limited to, the inability to prepare a simple meal and feed oneself, the inability to take care of personal hygiene, the inability to sort and handle papers or files, and the inability to place files in a file cabinet at or above waist level.

If you meet or equal the above requirements because of arthritis or joint problems, you are considered disabled.  If your arthritis or other joint condition is not severe enough to equal or meet a listing, the Social Security Administration must assess your residual functional capacity (the work you can still do, despite your joint condition), to determine whether you qualify for benefits at Step 4 and Step 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process.

For more information on the medical terms included in this listing, see Winning Social Security Disability Benefits for Joint Dysfunction by Meeting a Listing.

More about arthritis, joint pain and joint damage in Philadelphia Social Security disability cases

The joint pain and loss of joint mobility we often see in our Philadelphia disability cases may be caused by a number of disorders including:

  • Osteoarthritis;
  • Rheumatoid arthritis;
  • Psoriatic arthritis;
  • Infectious arthritis and osteomyelitis;
  • Gout;
  • Systemic lupus erythematosis;
  • Osteonecrosis;
  • Scleroderma;
  • Polymyositis;
  • Reiter’s Syndrome;
  • Traumatic damage to joints; and
  • Neuropathic arthropathy.

Two common forms of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

Osteoarthritis.  Osteoarthritis is the most common arthritis seen by the Social Security Administration in Philadelphia and nationwide.  Osteoarthritis (also known as hypertrophic arthritis or degenerative arthritis) is not a systemic disease.  It doesn’t impact your entire body;  its effects are confined to the involved joints.  Osteoarthritis is slowly progressive and starts with damage to the cartilage on opposing ends of bone inside the joint space.  Any joint in the body can be involved.

Heavy impact activity on joints predisposes one to the development of osteoarthritis, and osteoarthritis is associated with advancing age. Trauma to a joint, such as a fracture into a joint space, is frequently followed by development of osteoarthritis.

Generally, our Philadelphia disability claimants with osteoarthritis applying for disability benefits allege some degree of limiting symptoms (e.g., pain, and stiffness).  Individual symptoms and function vary greatly, and a disability determination should not be based on any one finding, such as x-ray evidence, alone.  However, objective abnormalities like deformity, restriction in joint motion, and joint narrowing shown in an x-ray play an important role in convincing the Philadelphia Social Security adjudicator that your report of your symptoms is credible.

Rheumatoid arthritis.  Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune cells attack and damage the joints.  The precise cause of rheumatoid arthritis is still not clear; and the disease often comes on gradually.  Rheumatoid arthritis is seen two to three times as frequently in women as men.

The primary target for rheumatoid arthritis is the synovial membrane that surrounds and protects joints.  The synovial membrane that surrounds the joints is damaged early in the disease.  In more advanced cases the ligaments, tendons, and bone are affected.  Rheumatoid arthritis can damage the bone by causing it to dissolve, a process known as erosion, which can be seen on x-ray.  Erosion is more serious than inflammation alone. Erosions may be of any degree of severity.

Symmetry is a characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis, and means that the same joints are generally involved on both sides of the body at the same time, such as arthritis in both the right and left thumbs.  Rheumatoid arthritis is not always only an arthritic disease. It can sometimes result in lung disease (such as fibrosis); damage the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy); inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart (pericarditis); damage to heart valves; anemia; and damage to peripheral nerves (neuropathy).

No Philadelphia disability claimant with rheumatoid arthritis should ever have his or her claim for Philadelphia disability benefits decided solely with a joint examination; a general physical examination should always be documented.

Important points for Philadelphia disability claimants suffering from arthritis and joint damage about applying for disability benefits

While arthritis and joint problems are two common impairments we see in our Philadelphia Social Security disability cases, the Social Security Administration, both in Philadelphia and nationally, does not necessarily treat the early stages of osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease as disabling.

Frequently x-ray evidence of osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease does not align well with symptoms.  Some people with x-ray findings of severe osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease may have no symptoms whatsoever.  Others suffer excruciating pain even though they have x-ray findings characterized as mild.  For those who are symptomatic, x-ray findings often seem to lag far behind symptoms.  In the introductory comments to the joint dysfunction listings, the Social Security Administration acknowledges that “there is a relative lack of correlation between findings on imaging and function of the joint.”

You should also note though that for the symptom of “joint pain,” which is included as an element of listing 1.02 (see above), any amount of pain will do.  Nothing more is needed than the presence of pain.  You do not have to quantify your pain, or evaluate its intensity or functionally limiting effects to determine if the element is met.

Get help from knowledgeable and experienced Philadelphia disability lawyers

We have been practicing disability law for over 30 years, and are experienced with handling all types of impairments.  We also bring to the table a real understanding of arthritis and joint damage.  Our firm’s co-founder, Mike Silver, is an arthritis advocate who has a real awareness of the misconceptions surrounding the disease and the true impact arthritis has on the lives of its sufferers.  He was the recipient of the Ambassador for Arthritis Award in 2009.

Mike served as the Chairman of the Arthritis Foundation of Eastern Pennsylvania’s Board of Directors from 2002 to 2005.  Prior to that, he volunteered at the Arthritis Foundation and served as its first Advocacy Chair.  He currently serves as the Arthritis Foundation’s Advocacy Chair and he is the co-Chair of the Foundation’s Jingle Bell Run.

Mike also served as a past President of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR), an association of more than 3,900 attorneys and paralegals who represent Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income claimants.  NOSSCR’s members are committed to providing high quality representation for disability claimants and to maintaining a system of full and fair adjudication for every claimant.  Mike lectures on disability law to the medical, legal, and insurance communities, and testified before the House of Representatives’ Social Security Subcommittee, advocating for ways to make the disability system more equitable.

Mike also founded and chaired the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Disability Law Committee from its inception in 1995 through 2004.   He has been recognized by Philadelphia Magazine as a Super Lawyer in the disability field from 2004 through 2010.

Mike and the other attorneys at our firm are all dedicated to the practice of Social Security disability law, and we will offer you a combination of specialized experienced and knowledge, and a successful strategy to approaching Philadelphia disability cases.  For information about our firm’s attorneys, see About us.

Complete investigation of possibilities

We fully explore all factors, especially a high impact item like having difficulty walking, when we take on a Philadelphia Social Security disability case, whether the claim is due to arthritis, joint problems or is triggered by some other health problem.

If you would like us to evaluate your Philadelphia Social Security disability claim, use the contact information below or the evaluation form to your right.

More information on arthritis and joint problems is available on our website.  See Applying for disability benefits when you have: Arthritis & joint damage.

Silver & Silver
Philadelphia disability lawyers
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Silver & Silver
42 West Lancaster Avenue
Ardmore, Pennsylvania 19003

Representing disabled individuals seeking Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey Social Security disability benefits for over 30 years.