Degenerative hip joints, also known as osteoarthritis of the hip, are caused by a loss of cartilage in the hip. With degenerative hip joints, the loss of cartilage, which allows the bones to glide smoothly past one another without pain, will get worse over time.
Disabling Symptoms of Degenerative Hip Joints
The symptoms of degenerative hip joints includes hip pain that can range from mild discomfort to severe and constant pain, hip stiffness after being in one position for a period of time, and an inability to move your hip to perform routine activities, such as putting on your socks. Other symptoms outside of the hip area that can become affected include weakness and shrinking of the thigh muscle, shortening of the leg, and knee pain on the side of the affected hip.
Treatment for degenerative hip joints depends on the severity of the pain that is experienced. Mild symptoms can be treated with rest and over the counter pain medications. For those who suffer higher levels of pain, a cane can be used to take weight off of the affected hip and prescription medications can be prescribed. If the pain becomes severe enough, surgery can be done to either replace the hip joint or fuse the bones of the hip joint together.
Getting Disability Benefits for Degenerative Hip Joints
To receive disability benefits through Social Security, you must provide evidence that you meet the requirements of one of Social Security's disability listings or that you are unable to return to work due to your limitations.
Your Impairment Meets Disability Listing
While there is no specific disability listing for degenerative hip joints, the problems that are caused by the condition are likely to be considered a major dysfunction of a joint, which is listed under Section 1.02 of Social Security's listing of impairments.
In order to show that you meet the requirements of listing 1.02, you will need to show that you have a deformity, chronic joint pain and stiffness that affects your ability to move, and a narrowing of the space between your joints or ankylosis, a fusion of the bones. You will also have to show that the above ailments make it impossible for you to walk effectively with a walker, two canes, or assistance.
To prove the above listing, you will need proper medical evidence, including medical imaging (such as MRIs). Deformities of the hip can include ankylosis, narrowing of the space between the joints, or instability due to loss of cartilage, all of which can be shown through medical imaging. Limitations on movement due to pain and stiffness can be proven through range of motion and other medical tests.
In extreme cases, hip surgery may be used to relieve pain. Hip reconstructive surgery and surgical fusing of the bones of the hip are the two options for hip surgery for this condition. If the surgery is completed and your ability to walk effectively did not return in 12 months, or is not expected to return within the next 12 months, you may meet the listing 1.03 instead (reconstructive surgery on a major weight-bearing joint). See our article on disability following a hip replacement for more information.
Your Limitations Don't Allow You to Return to Work
For those who do not meet the disability listing for joint dysfunction, they may still be able to receive Social Security disability benefits if they are unable to return to work. To determine one's ability to return to work, Social Security uses the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment. The RFC assesses what you can do and any functional limitations in your physical and mental abilities.
For those with degenerative hip joints, difficulty walking, pain, and stiffness from sitting are some of the symptoms that may prevent them from succeeding at work physically. Problems with walking, pain, or the use of a cane can prevent an individual from performing physical tasks such as lifting, carrying, or pushing items or work at a job that requires hours of walking or standing. Stiffness from sitting may prevent an individual from being able to perform a desk job without frequent breaks to get up and walk around. Your RFC should include these limitations.
In addition, the ability to perform a task at work may also be affected if an individual is in severe pain. Chronic pain may prevent an individual from concentrating on the task at hand or remembering instructions. If you have these issues, Social Security should include them in a mental RFC.
After completing your RFC assessment, Social Security will use its "medical-vocational rules grid" to see whether your RFC, along with your age, education, and job skills, combine to make you disabled. To learn more, see our section on RFCs and the medical-vocational rules grid.