Disability Benefits Based on Bone Spurs

When bone spurs affect your ability to use your arms or walk effectively, you can get Social Security disability benefits.

By , J.D. · Albany Law School
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

Bone spurs (also called osteophytes) are growths caused by pressure, rubbing, or stress to a bone. Many people who have bone spurs are unaware of them unless they're discovered when being X-rayed for something else. However, if the bone spur is rubbing on other bones, ligaments, tendons, or nerves, it can cause pain and limitations in movement that make it difficult to work full-time.

Disabling Symptoms of Bone Spurs

Symptoms of bone spurs will depend on where in the body the bone spur has grown. Below are some of the areas most commonly affected by bone spurs and their related symptoms.

  • Hands. Bone spurs can make the joints in your fingers look like they have bumps on them. You may feel pain and experience limitations in the use of your fingers.
  • Hip. Bone spurs in your hip can limit your ability to walk properly and cause pain when moving your legs.
  • Knees. Bone spurs can get in the way of tendons in the knee, making it hard for you to walk or stand. You may experience pain when straightening or bending your knee.
  • Feet. Bone spurs can cause redness and swelling in your foot, causing difficulties with standing for long periods of time.
  • Shoulder. Bone spurs can rub against your rotator cuff (shoulder joint) and cause swelling or tearing of the joint. You might find it hard to lift objects or raise your arms.
  • Spine. Bone spurs can narrow your spinal canal and pinch nerves in your spinal cord, causing weakness or numbness in your arms or legs.

Sometimes a bone spur can break away from the bone on which it grew, floating near a joint and preventing it from working properly. When the bone spur goes into a joint, the joint can become locked and not be able to move until the bone spur is removed.

Can You Get Disability for Bone Spurs?

Social Security can award disability benefits to people who are unable to work full-time for at least twelve months due to symptoms or complications from bone spurs. You'll be found disabled if you can show that:

  • you meet or "equal" the requirements of a listed impairment, or
  • no jobs exist that you're able to do.

Keep in mind that the two disability programs, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), have their own financial eligibility requirements that you'll need to establish before you can qualify for benefits. Even if you meet a listed impairment or are unable to work, if you don't meet the "technical" requirements for SSDI or SSI, you won't be able to receive benefits.

Meeting a Disability Listing

A disability listing is an impairment in Social Security's "Blue Book" of conditions that can qualify you for benefits automatically if your medical records contain specific evidence. While bone spurs don't have their own disability listing, you may be able to meet (or equal) the criteria for a related listing.

Below are three listings that are most likely to apply to somebody with bone spurs.

Listing 1.15, Disorders of the skeletal spine. If your bone spur is affecting the nerves in your spine, you may be able to meet listing 1.15 if you can show that:

  • the bone spur is pushing on a nerve root, causing pain, numbness, or fatigue
  • your doctors' notes contain evidence of muscle weakness, irritation of the affected nerve, and a decrease in sensation or reflexes
  • medical imaging (such as an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan) showing that the bone spur is touching the nerve root, and
  • you're unable to effectively use the limb that the nerve connects with as a result.

For more information, see our section on disability for disorders of the spine.

Listing 1.18, Abnormality of a major joint. To meet listing 1.18, you'll need to show that you have a bone spur on a joint that causes instability, chronic pain, and stiffness. You must have medical imaging that shows what's wrong with the joint, and your doctors' notes have to show that you can't walk properly or use your arms effectively.

Listing 14.09, Inflammatory arthritis. If your bone spurs were caused by arthritis, Social Security may evaluate your disability claim under listing 14.09. You can meet this listing in one of four ways:

  • your joint inflammation is so severe that you can't move your arms or legs independently
  • you have signs of severe inflammation of at least two organs, in addition to a joint
  • your arthritis causes the bones in your spine to fuse, resulting in a certain degree of hunched posture, or
  • you have repeated "flare-ups" of arthritis with at least two different symptoms (severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss), one of which is "marked" (severe) in intensity.

For more detailed information about the above listing requirements, see our article on inflammatory arthritis.

Not Being Able to Return to Any Work

Even if you don't meet or equal a disability listing, you might still qualify for benefits if you can show that, due to symptoms from your bone spurs, you're unable to return to any work.

In order to decide whether you can work, Social Security assesses your functional limitations to determine your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is a set of restrictions on what you can and can't do in a work environment.

People with bone spurs may experience physical limitations due to pain, reduced range of motion in the joints, and numbness in the limbs—all of which can affect the ability to perform job tasks. For example:

  • bone spurs in the hip, knee, and spine can limit your ability to stand, walk, or lift objects at work
  • bone spurs in the shoulders or arms can affect your ability to do even sit-down jobs if you're having trouble moving your arms and fingers, and
  • pain from bone spurs anywhere in the body can distract you from focusing on work and keep you from performing job tasks on time.

Your RFC will contain all the limitations in your medical record as well as your self-reported activities of daily living. Social Security will then use your RFC to determine whether you're able to return to your past work. If you can return to the type of jobs you've done in the past, the agency can't find you disabled. But if you're unable to do your past work, the agency will then need to determine whether you can do a less demanding job.

If no easier jobs exist that you could perform given your age, education, and work history, then Social Security will award you disability benefits. You can learn more in our article on how Social Security decides if you can do past or other work.

Learn More or Get Help

If you're thinking of applying for disability benefits, you can read more in our articles on filing for Social Security disability, how to handle Social Security denials and appeals, and why you should consider getting help from a disability attorney.

Updated July 17, 2023

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