Arthritis is the term for a group of painful conditions that affect the body’s joints. For many people with arthritis, the condition can be debilitating.

Symptoms vary in severity depending on the type of arthritis and the time that elapses between when a person begins to develop the condition and begins treatment. Arthritis pain, stiffness, and joint damage may keep a person from performing daily tasks and holding a job. Some people with arthritis may qualify for disability benefits.

This article looks at arthritis and the various levels of disability that may happen to people living with the condition. It then discusses when a person with arthritis may qualify for disability benefits, and how to apply for them. Finally, the article looks at types of arthritis, along with symptoms and causes.

An older adult with arthritis and disability benefitsShare on Pinterest
Makiko Tanigawa/Getty Images

Arthritis can cause varying levels of disability in different people. For instance, some people may experience mild pain that goes away with the help of over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

However, severe arthritis may involve progressive joint damage and require medical interventions. Prescription treatments may not reverse existing damage or take away all symptoms. In some cases, arthritis may result in the loss of joint function and a drastically reduced range of mobility.

Some people may qualify for disability support if they cannot get or keep work because of arthritis pain and other symptoms. A person must have a doctor’s report showing that they have an arthritis-related disability before applying for government benefits.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires workplaces with 15 or more employees to provide accommodations for people with a disability. For a person working in the company, such work-related changes may include:

  • modifying work hours
  • allowing time off
  • ensuring the work environment is accessible and allows a person to perform their tasks comfortably

Two programs administered through the Social Security Administration may provide support for a person with disabilities.

Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) is a government program for people who have previously worked and have a sufficient amount of work credits with Social Security.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a government program for low-income people over 65 years old who have insufficient work credits to qualify for SSDI.

There may be a 5-month waiting period before a person diagnosed with a qualifying disability can get SSDI payments.


If a person gets SSDI payments and is less than 65 years old, they may qualify for Medicare after getting SSDI benefits for a minimum of 24 months. The government will then enroll them automatically in Medicare Part A and Part B.

During that 2-year waiting period, a person might be able to continue to be covered through their employer’s insurance policy. If that is not the case, then a person might be able to get healthcare coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, also known as COBRA.

If the disability is calculated to be short-term, or partial, then a person will not qualify for Medicare.

Learn more about Medicare and disability here.

To qualify for either SSDI or SSI, a person’s disability must:

  • prevent them from getting or holding gainful employment
  • last for a least a year or have a risk of death
  • be on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) list of disabling conditions

For each impairment on the list, there is a series of medical criteria for assessing whether a condition is disabling.

Generally, a person needs to prove their disability by providing a medical diagnosis and physical examination report with details about a person’s condition, symptoms, and how it limits that person’s ability to function. They may also have to provide the results of tests such as muscle strength, range of motion, or blood tests.

Each disabling condition requires a specific amount of documentation. People should read the requirements carefully and discuss them with their doctor. A person must be able to clearly explain how their condition prevents them from performing work and other activities.

This online tool can help a person find out which benefits they are eligible to claim.

People with arthritis can make a disability claim for SSDI via an online application. They can also do so on the phone or in person.

People also can apply for SSI in person, by phone, and online.

The claim process may take several months and up to 2 years. After approval, there is a 5-month period before a person starts to get benefits. Private insurance may provide assistance during the waiting period.

A person can appeal if the SSA rejects their application.

A person may want to keep a copy of all paperwork or online documents as proof of submission.

It is possible for a person to claim short-term benefits via private insurance while they also apply for benefits through the SSA. Short-term private insurance benefits may help cover living costs while a person waits on a response to their SSA application.

Some private insurance policies provide disability coverage should a person become unable to get or keep work. People should check with their insurance provider to see if they have this type of coverage in their policy, or have a separate disability policy.

Generally, disability coverage with a private insurance plan is either for short-term (up to 2 years) or long-term disability (up to a lifetime benefit). The policies pay out a portion of a person’s income for the term designated in the policy, although specific timeframes will vary depending on the policy and provider.

Arthritis is a general term for around 200 conditions that affect the joints and related tissues. In some cases, the swelling and inflammation can lead to joint damage.

Common types of arthritis include:

Learn more about arthritis here.

People with arthritis may experience the following symptoms:

  • joint pain
  • joint stiffness
  • joint swelling and inflammation
  • fatigue

Some forms of arthritis may also affect the skin, eyes, and organs such as the lungs. Joint symptoms can affect any joint around the body, but arthritis is most common in the hands, wrists, fingers, knees, and spine.

Symptoms of arthritis can be debilitating, and people with the condition may not be able to keep or get work. Government programs may offer assistance, depending on the specific criteria. A person may apply online, by phone, or in person.