Getting Disability Benefits for Ankylosing Spondylitis

Social Security recognizes as a painful and limiting illness that can make work difficult.

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Previously referred to as Marie-Strumpells spondylitis, poker back, and rheumatoid spondylitis, ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a term that few people will have heard of unless they've been diagnosed with the condition.

What Is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

There are many ways to define it. It is an autoimmune disorder, an inflammatory arthritic disorder, a rheumatic disease, and one of the various spondylarthropathies. Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory condition that can affect various areas of the body (such as the heart, the eyes, the lungs, and kidneys) but which mainly attacks the joints of the spine and the joints between the pelvis and the spine, the sacroiliac joints. Over time, the inflammation brought on by AS can lead not only to pain and stiffness in affected areas, but can also result in ankylosis, which is the fusion or fixation of joints.

Individuals with ankylosing spondylitis may suffer from stiffening of the spine and reduced mobility that impairs their ability to satisfactorily engage in normal daily activities. They may also suffer damage to non-vertebral joints and, typically, this means the hips (though the knees, ankles, and even shoulders may be affected). If the damage is severe enough, arthroplasty, or total joint replacement may be advised. AS is a condition for which there is no cure, that, left undiagnosed and untreated, can cause severe physical impairments.

For more information on AS, see our ankylosing spondylitis FAQ.

Who Gets Ankylosing Spondylitis?

As much as 1% of the U.S. population may be affected by this condition. However, ankylosing spondylitis is more commonly diagnosed in men than in women. Ankylosing spondylitis also tends to be a younger person's illness as onset for AS after the age of forty is somewhat uncommon (ankylosing spondylitis is generally diagnosed between the middle teen years and the early thirties).

Ankylosing spondylitis also seems to run in families, as the probability of diagnosis increases when relatives also have the disease. With regard to genetic predisposition, the majority of individuals with ankylosing spondylitis carry the HLA-B27 gene. However, the gene itself may only predispose an individual toward developing ankylosing spondylitis.

Are Disability Benefits Available for Ankylosing Spondylitis?

AS can cause significant damage to joints and internal organs, and the pain and limitation in mobility can make work difficult. However, if disagnosed early and if properly treated with the proper medications, the damage that results from inflammation brought on by this disorder can be minimized. If you are unable to work, you can apply for disability benefits through Social Security.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) does recognize AS as a potentially disabling illness, under its inflammatory arthritis listing. To be automatically approved for benefits, you must have one of the following symptoms of AS, as shown by medical imaging.

  • Fixation of the dorsolumbar or cervical spine at 45° or more of flexion from the vertical position.
  • Fixation of the dorsolumbar or cervical spine at 30° or more of flexion from the vertical position, plus moderate involvement of two or more organs/body systems.

If your AS is not severe enough to fulfill one of the above requirements, you might still be able to get disability benefits if it limits your functioning so much that there are many work activities you cannot do. For more information, see our articles on how Social Security decides if you should be able to work.

Updated by: , J.D.

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