Disability for Degenerative Hip Joints: Benefits & Filing

If your doctor says you can't walk without a walker or two crutches, or you can't lift and carry items because you use a cane, you might be able to get disability benefits.

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

Degenerative hip joints (also known as osteoarthritis of the hip) are caused by a loss of cartilage, a tissue that protects your joints, in the hip. Over time, the loss of cartilage—which allows the bones to glide smoothly past one another without pain—gets worse and can be disabling.

If pain from your hip osteoarthritis keeps you from working full-time for at least twelve months, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Disabling Symptoms of Degenerative Hip Joints

Symptoms of degenerative hip joints can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include:

  • pain, swelling, and tenderness in the hip
  • stiffness after being in one position for a period of time,
  • an inability to move your hip to perform routine activities, such as putting on your socks,
  • 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 how severe your pain is. Mild symptoms can often be treated with rest and over-the-counter pain medications. People with more severe pain may be prescribed stronger medications and a walking aid (such as a cane). If the pain becomes severe enough, hip surgery may be recommended to either replace the hip joint or fuse the bones of the joint together.

Getting Disability Benefits for Degenerative Hip Joints

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two benefit programs for people who meet the agency's definition of disability. The agency defines disability in two ways:

  • you meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment, or
  • you're unable to work full-time due to your limitations.

Disabled people with a lengthy work history may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), while those with limited income and assets could be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Does Your Impairment Meet a Disability Listing?

A listed impairment is a medical condition that—when supported by specific evidence in your medical records—can qualify you for disability automatically without needing to show that you can't work. While the SSA doesn't have a specific disability listing for a degenerative hip joint, the agency will likely evaluate your condition under listing 1.18 for abnormality of a major joint.

To meet the requirements of listing 1.18, you'll need to provide evidence of all of the following:

  • chronic joint pain and stiffness in your hip
  • abnormal range of motion, instability, or immobility in your hip, and
  • physical examination or medical imaging (such as an MRI or X-ray) that demonstrates hip degeneration.

Social Security will look at your medical records—particularly your doctors' notes, range of motion tests, and imaging—for medical terms describing what's wrong with your hip. The agency will be on the lookout for descriptions such as:

  • subluxation (partial dislocation of the hip)
  • contracture (tightening of the tissues in the hip)
  • joint space narrowing
  • ankylosis (stiffness due to fused bones or hard tissue), or
  • arthrodesis (surgical bone fusion).

The SSA will also need to see that you have functional limitations resulting from your hip generation, in the form of using mobility devices like a walker, bilateral canes or crutches, or a wheelchair that requires both hands to operate.

Note that all of the above criteria must occur within a consecutive four-month period (except for disability claims decided during the COVID-19 pandemic). For instance, you can't have a recent MRI showing an abnormal joint coupled with a documented need for a walker for six months last year.

Social Security's "Blue Book" of impairments includes other listings that are associated with chronic joint pain, like arthritis or lupus. If you have medical conditions in addition to bad hips, you might be able to qualify for disability benefits by showing that your joint symptoms are medically equivalent to the symptoms in one of these listings.

Do Your Limitations Prevent You From Working Full-Time?

Even if you don't meet a disability listing, you can still receive Social Security disability benefits if you're unable to work because of your limitations. For example, if your doctor says you don't need a walker or wheelchair, you won't meet listing 1.18, which requires you to use an ambulatory aid. But if you're unable to be on your feet longer than 30 minutes without pain, the SSA could find that no jobs exist that you can do.

Social Security uses a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment to determine whether you can work. Your RFC reflects what you're still able to do in a work environment, physically and mentally, as well as what you shouldn't do because of functional limitations. The SSA will look at your medical records as well as your activities of daily living to determine your RFC.

Here's an example of a typical RFC for somebody with degenerative hip joints:

Once Social Security completes your RFC assessment, the agency will compare the demands of your past work history with your current limitations to determine whether you can do those jobs now. If you can't, the SSA will need to see whether other jobs exist that you can do despite the restrictions in your RFC.

For disability applicants younger than 50 years old, Social Security generally needs to see that you're unable to perform the easiest, sit-down jobs. For applications 50 years of age or older, the SSA will use its medical-vocational rules grid to see whether you can learn to do an easier job, given your age, education, and job skills.

How to Apply for Disability Based on Degenerative Hip Joints

If you're applying for SSDI, the disability program funded by employee payroll taxes, you can file your entire claim online on Social Security's website. You don't have to complete the whole application at once, and the agency will provide you with a tracking number so you can return and finish your application later.

You can also apply by phone at 800-772-1213 from 8:00 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you're deaf or hard of hearing, you can call the TTY number at 800-325-0778.

If you're applying for just SSI, the low-income program, you can begin your application on the SSA's website, but you'll need to finish it with the help of a Social Security representative. Regardless of which program you're applying for, you can set up an appointment with a representative at your local Social Security field office.

For more information, see our article on applying for Social Security disability benefits.

Updated July 10, 2023

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