Dupuytren's contracture is a condition that causes deformities of the hand, most often in the middle finger, ring finger, and pinky. Dupuytren's (also called palmar fibromatosis) causes the layer of tissue that lies under the skin of the palm to thicken and knot, which pulls the fingers inward and can prevent them from opening. The condition can occur in one or both hands.
Some symptoms can be treated using enzyme injections and a procedure called "needling" that can help break apart the tissue. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary, but recovery is difficult and may require long periods of physical therapy. None of these treatments, however, can cure the condition.
To be eligible for disability, you must meet several basic requirements first: you cannot be working a substantial amount. Social Security has a threshold called the substantial gainful activity level, which is currently around $1,500. But you shouldn't be earning anywhere close to this amount when you apply for disability benefits. Equally as important, your condition must be expected to prevent you from working at the SGA level for at least 12 consecutive months.
Next, you'll have to prove your condition prevents you from not only doing your old job, but that it stops you from doing any other job in the U.S. To decide if you can work at any job, the SSA must first determine your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is the type of work you can do on a regular and sustained basis. The SSA will prepare a detailed RFC report that uses your medical records to assess how your condition affects your ability to do certain physical work-related activities such as walking, sitting, pushing, and pulling. Based on your functioning in these areas, the SSA will give you an RFC level for sedentary, light, medium, or heavy work.
Unfortunately, because Dupuytren's contracture doesn't affect a person's strength, the SSA will probably conclude that you still have the RFC to do a sedentary job. This means that, on the basis of your RFC alone, you could be denied benefits and have to appeal. However, depending on the severity of your condition, there are techniques you may be able to use to help win your claim. These are discussed in more detail below.
A non-exertional impairment is one that affects your ability to perform certain non-strength-related activities. Difficulty with manipulative (hand and finger) or postural (body positions) requirements such as reaching, handling, stooping, climbing, crawling, or crouching is one example of a non-exertional impairment.
If you cannot be treated effectively for Duyputren's contracture, your ability to use your hands may be affected to the point that you can no longer use them to perform certain hand-related tasks. This could count as a severe non-exertional impairment.
While the SSA might agree this non-exertional limitation prevents you from doing your old job, you still have to prove you can't do any other work either in order to win your claim. And the SSA will bring up many examples of jobs that don't require fine digital manipulation of both hands that it will say you can do.
Here are some examples.
For more information, see our article on how non-exertional limitations affect the disability decision.
It can be much easier for an older claimant to win disability, even if the SSA decides he or she can still do a sedentary job. This is because the SSA must use a series of tables called "the grids" that don't allow the SSA to take into account whether there are a few types of atypical jobs the claimant could still do.
The grid rules take into consideration a claimant's age, education, RFC, and the skill level of his or her job to direct a finding of disabled or not disabled. Here is an example.
For a detailed discussion of the grid rules, see our article on how the grids can be used to win your disability claim.
Many people who suffer from Dupuytren's contracture also suffer from other contracture disorders elsewhere in their body, particularly in the feet. If you suffer from contractures in multiple locations, the SSA will consider the combined effect of these conditions. Here is an example.
For more information, see our article on how you can win your claim using a combination of impairments.
Depending on the severity of your condition, your age, and whether you have other impairments, you may be able to win a claim for disability based on your Dupuytren's. However, if Dupuytren's is your only disabling condition and your case is denied, the techniques needed to win on appeal can be complicated. Consider contacting an experienced disability attorney to discuss your case.
Updated December 30, 2022