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 , Contributing Author

Degenerative hip joints are caused by a loss of cartilage in the hip, also known as osteoarthritis of 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 include 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 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.

Does Your Impairment Meet a Disability Listing?

While there is no specific disability listing for a degenerative hip joint, the condition is likely to be considered an abnormality of a major joint, which is the subject of listing 1.18 of Social Security's listings.

To meet the requirements of listing 1.18, you will need to show that you have an abnormality in your hip that causes chronic joint pain and stiffness and a narrowing of the space between your joints or ankylosis (a fusion of the bones). In addition, you need medical documentation that you need to use a walker, bilateral canes or crutches, or a wheelchair or scooter that requires both hands.

To prove you have an anatomical abnormality, your medical records must include one of the following:

  • medical imaging (such as an x-ray or MRI) that shows either joint space narrowing, ankylosis, or the destruction of bone, OR
  • clinical notes from your doctor detailing an abnormality on a physical exam, like subluxation (partial dislocation), contracture (tightening), or bony or fibrous ankylosis (stiffness due to fused bone or adhesions).

Limitations on movement due to pain and stiffness can be proven through range of motion and other medical tests.

Note that all of the above criteria must occur within a consecutive four-month period. 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.

Hip surgery. Hip surgery is often used to relieve pain in extremely degenerated hips. Hip replacement surgery and surgical fusing of the bones of the hip are two options for hip surgery for this condition. If the surgery is completed and your ability to walk without an assistive device did not return in 12 months, or is not expected to return within 12 months, you may be able to meet the listing 1.17 (reconstructive surgery on a major weight-bearing joint). See our article on disability following a hip replacement for more information.

Other listings. Social Security's listing of impairments includes other listings that are associated with chronic joint pain. 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. To learn more about meeting the requirements under these listings, see our articles about these impairments:

Do Your Limitations Not Allow You to Return to Work?

Claimants who don't meet the disability listing for joint dysfunction (or another listing) may still be able to receive Social Security disability benefits if they are unable to return to work. For instance, if your doctor says you don't need a walker or wheelchair, but you can't stand or walk for several hours without a great deal of pain, you won't meet the listing, but Social Security could still agree there are no jobs you can do.

To determine your ability to return to work, Social Security uses a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment. The RFC assesses what you are still able to do, along with any functional limitations in your physical and mental abilities.

Degenerative hip RFCs. For those with degenerative hip joints, difficulty walking, pain from standing, and stiffness from sitting are some of the symptoms that may prevent them from succeeding at work physically. Problems with walking 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. If your doctor has recorded these symptoms in your medical records, your RFC should include these limitations.

Mental RFCs. Your ability to perform certain tasks at work is likely affected if you're in severe pain. Chronic pain can prevent an individual from concentrating on the task at hand or remembering instructions. If you report these issues on your application, Social Security should include them in a separate mental RFC.

Grid rules. 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.

How to Apply for Disability Based on Degenerative Hip Joints

If you're applying for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), the program funded by employees' FICA taxes, you can file your entire claim online on Social Security's website. If you're not comfortable online, you can call Social Security at 800-772-1213 to start your claim.

If you're applying for just SSI, the low-income program, you can't file the whole application online, but you can get started on Social Security's website. For more information, see our article on applying for Social Security disability benefits.

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