Can You Get Disability Benefits for a Torn ACL?

Learn about the situations where a torn ACL may qualify you for benefits from Social Security Disability.

By , Contributing Author

A torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) refers to a tear in the ligament that connects the back outside of the femur to the front inside of the tibia. This ligament is commonly injured during athletics.

Can I get disability for my torn ACL?

You can get Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits or SSI disability benefits for your torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) if you can prove to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that your injury prevents you from working any type of job. If your prior job, or past relevant work, included only "light" or "sedentary" work activities, such as a security guard or cashier (see our article on your chances of getting disability as a former cashier), it's unlikely Social Security would agree that a torn ACL would prevent you from going back to work.

However, if your past jobs were all "heavy" or "medium" jobs requiring lifting 50 pounds or more, kneeling, squatting, crouching, and/or crawling, and your knee is unstable from a torn ACL, it's unlikely you'll be able to return to your former job. In that case, Social Security would consider your skills, education, and age to see if you could be retrained for a light or sedentary job. For more information, see our section on how Social Security decides whether you can work.

I can't work while I'm recovering from surgery for my torn ACL. Can I get disability?

If you had surgery to repair your torn ACL, you may need to take several months off work for recovery and physical therapy before you regain the full use of your knee. However, to be approved for Social Security benefits, your injury or impairment must prevent you from working for at least 12 consecutive months.

When you have this type of surgery, Social Security will generally assume that the outcome of your surgery will be positive and that you will be out of work for six months at most, and as a result, will the agency will deny your claim. Only in rare cases post-surgery (for instance, where your knee pain or instability did not improve after surgery), would Social Security consider you for disability benefits, and only after you have had ample time to recover from the surgery and rehabilitate your knee. Social Security has a disability listing for surgery of a weight bearing joint: listing 1.03.

I developed arthritis in my knee after my torn ACL. Will this help me win my claim?

The ACL is not self-healing and must often be repaired surgically with tissue graft to replace the torn ligament. Treatment is often necessary due to the fact that continued athletic or work activity on a torn ACL will most likely lead to significant cartilage damage and consequent osteoarthritis in the future.

If you have developed osteoarthritis in your injured knee and you can no longer walk without assistance, it will be easier for you to win your claim. For example, if you have to use a walker, two crutches, two canes, have problems getting up and down stairs, or need help from another person to get around, the SSA will likely approve your claim. For more information see our article on osteoarthritis and disability.

Even though I had surgery, I can't bend my knee the way I used to. Will the SSA consider this a disability?

If the range of motion in your knee has been significantly affected by your injury and is not expected to improve, you may not be able to do certain work-activities you were once able to do like kneeling, crouching, crawling, squatting, or climbing. The SSA will consider these restrictions when determining whether you are limited to heavy, medium, light, or sedentary work, which will determine whether there are any jobs you can do. See our section on how Social Security decides if you can work for more information. (Also see Social Security's listing for surgery on a weight bearing joint.)

I developed chronic pain after my knee surgery for my torn ACL. Does this make a difference in my claim?

Chronic pain can interfere with your ability to perform day-to-day activities like housekeeping, grocery shopping, driving, or socializing, as well as with work activities that require physical exertion or concentration. Make sure that you provide a detailed report to the SSA about how your chronic pain impacts your activities of daily living so that the SSA can consider these restrictions when deciding your claim.

Chronic pain can also cause anxiety and depression that may require psychiatric treatment. If you have seen a mental health professional or take medication for anxiety or depression, you should report this to the SSA. The SSA will consider the effects of your depression or anxiety in combination with any limits caused by your torn ACL. For more information, see our article on chronic pain and disability benefits.

What kind of medical evidence do I need to give the SSA to prove my disability?

The SSA will consider everything in your medical records when making a determination about your claim. To make sure the SSA gets all of your medical records, provide the agency with the names and contact information of all your treating doctors. You can also send the SSA medical records yourself if you can get them from your doctor, such as imaging reports from MRIs, CT scans, or x-rays, and physical therapy reports. Also provide the SSA with and a complete list of medications you've taken since your initial injury, including any side effects you experience. It is important that you provide this information to the SSA as early as possible in the claims process. For more information, see our section on medical records for disability claims.

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