Osteoarthritis (OA) can affect many aspects of daily life, including the ability to work. In some cases, people with OA may be unable to do any work, which may lead to early retirement.

However, there are ways to adapt a person’s job or daily routine so that they do not aggravate symptoms. For example, in the United States, people with OA may have a right to workplace accommodations that make working easier.

Depending on the severity of their symptoms, a person may also be able to get support via Social Security payments or through a disability insurance policy. Some workplaces may offer additional support and benefits.

Keep reading to learn more about OA and early retirement, including how often OA leads to retirement, tips for continuing to work, and the types of help people may be able to receive.

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In some situations, OA may result in a person retiring early. This could happen if the person:

  • cannot do any type of work without exacerbating symptoms
  • is in severe pain
  • has enough money to retire, either from savings, disability insurance, or Social Security benefits
  • wants more time to focus on their health

It is unclear how often people in the U.S. retire early due to OA. However, a 2018 population study in Portugal suggests that people with the condition sometimes leave work.

The participants were between the ages of 50–64, and one-third had a form of OA. Of those people, more than half were no longer in paid work.

That said, the only type of OA that correlated with retirement was knee arthritis. Other types did not have statistically significant differences.

Having OA in itself is not necessarily a reason to stop working. Additionally, quitting work will not necessarily help with the condition, although this depends on the type of work a person does.

Work that involves straining the same joint repeatedly may aggravate symptoms and cause pain. However, work that does not involve moving the joint much or that involves gentle movement that does not cause pain may be okay.

It is important for a person to speak with a doctor to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages their current work could have for their condition.

People will need to consider whether:

  • they want or need to keep working
  • treatment might improve symptoms, making work easier
  • workplace accommodations could help
  • it would make sense to transition to another career

The right job for a person with OA will depend on the type of OA they have and their pain triggers. There are no particular jobs that will work for everyone with OA.

It may help to talk things through with a career advisor to identify the best fit. Ideally, a person can contact one with experience helping those with disabilities.

Some things to think about when exploring job options include:

  • What is off-limits: Knowing what is not possible will help narrow down the choices. For example, if a person has knee OA, this may rule out any job that involves bending down frequently, running, or heavy lifting.
  • What is helpful: There may be some types of movement that help with OA symptoms by preventing stiffness. Alternatively, a person may feel better combining a job that involves sitting at a desk with lunchtime walks or stretching.
  • Workplace policies: While U.S. law protects people with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace, it is still possible for employers to show a lack of understanding. It may help to look for employers that are inclusive and disability-friendly. Specific policies, such as paid sick days, may also be desirable.

Treatment for OA may help a person continue working by reducing pain and reducing the loss of joint function. There are also ways an employer can make it easier for people with OA to remain at work.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that all workplaces with over 15 employees in the U.S. must follow. It says that employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees who have disabilities, such as mobility impairments.

There is no specific list of accommodations employees are entitled to. Instead, employees can ask for reasonable adjustments that make it possible for them to do the same work as others. The accommodations that help will vary from person to person but could include the following:

  • more frequent breaks
  • delegating a single task that exacerbates OA to someone else
  • providing desk equipment that eases joint pain, such as an ergonomic mouse or wrist rest
  • changes to work hours or schedule

An employer who refuses to make accommodations that do not cause “undue hardship” to them, such as significant difficulty or expense, is breaking the law.

In addition to reasonable accommodations, the ADA also protects people with disabilities from discrimination. This includes protection against an employer doing any of the following:

  • not hiring, promoting, or giving raises to a person because of their disability
  • asking if a person has a disability, including what or how severe it is, during an interview
  • firing someone solely because of their impairment
  • denying benefits, leave, or training to people because of their disability
  • making medical decisions for the employee, such as taking them off a project their doctors say they can do, or demanding they take medication
  • asking for a medical examination before a person starts their job unless this is standard for all employees in the same job

However, there are certain things an employer can do, such as:

  • Request proof: An employer can ask for proof of a disability or medical condition. However, they cannot ask for access to detailed medical records.
  • Ask certain interview questions: Although employers cannot ask if a person has a disability during an interview, they can ask if the person can perform a task with or without reasonable accommodations. They can also ask a person to explain how they would do the task.
  • Refuse certain accommodations: Employers do not have to radically change a job to allow someone to keep working. For example, a typist cannot request not to do typing work.

There is sometimes dispute over what the core function of a job is and what is or is not reasonable. If this happens, people may need to consult a lawyer.

It is important to note that the ADA does not protect people who use illegal drugs.

Yes, in some cases, people with OA may be able to get disability benefits. There are several types of financial support they may be able to receive, such as:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI): People who meet certain requirements may be eligible for this type of benefit. This includes having a disability, being older, or having a low income. SSI supplements a person’s income rather than replacing it.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): People who have contributed to social security in the past or who are the widow, widower, or dependent of someone who has may be eligible for this benefit.
  • Workplace benefit programs: Some workplaces offer benefit programs to employees who acquire disabilities.
  • Long-term disability insurance: People with long-term disability insurance may be able to get payments through their disability insurer.

Each program has its own requirements and application process. Some may require copies of medical records or medical imaging showing the severity of the OA.

For federal benefits such as SSI or SSDI, it may help to contact a local Social Security Administration field office or a disability lawyer for advice.

Osteoarthritis (OA) may lead to early retirement for some people. However, it does not always. It can depend on the severity of symptoms, their progression, and how they impact work.

In some cases, people may find that asking for workplace accommodations or changing jobs allows them to continue working. Some forms of work may even be helpful, such as jobs that help a person stay active without worsening pain.

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