Getting Disability Benefits Because of Clubfoot

Social Security Disability benefits may be available to claimants with clubfoot who can't work.

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

Clubfoot is a fairly common birth defect in which one or both feet are twisted in and face down. Club foot can be isolated, meaning that it doesn't occur in conjunction with another disease, or nonisolated, meaning that it happens in combination with another condition, usually a musculoskeletal disorder such as spina bifida.

While clubfoot isn't curable, the deformity can often be corrected with treatment such as stretching exercises, casts, braces, or surgery. If left untreated, the condition can worsen, and in severe cases, club foot can become disabling.

What Foot Problems Qualify for Disability?

Foot pain can cause many limitations that affect your ability to work, such as difficulty standing and walking. Even sitting for too long can cause numbness and tingling in your feet. If painful symptoms from club foot keep you out of work for at least twelve months, you may be eligible for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

When Is Club Foot a Disability?

Before the SSA can determine whether your clubfoot is disabling, you'll need to show that you're eligible for at least one of the agency's disability benefit programs, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Eligibility for SSDI or SSI depends on factors such as your work history or how much money you have.

Once you meet the eligibility criteria, you can get disability benefits for club foot in two ways:

  • your clubfoot is severe enough to meet the requirements of a "listed impairment," or
  • limitations from your clubfoot keep you from working at any job full-time.

The first method, called meeting a listed impairment, is available for people with foot and ankle problems significant enough to keep them from walking independently. The second method, called a medical-vocational allowance, is the more common way to get benefits for people who don't need assistance to walk, but who can't be on their feet long enough to do any job.

Qualifying for Benefits Under a Disability Listing

Social Security has two relevant listings for people who can't walk independently due to musculoskeletal impairments, including clubfoot. Determining which listing could apply to you depends on whether you've had surgery to correct your club foot.

If you've had surgery on your ankle or foot, you might qualify for disability benefits under listing 1.17, reconstructive surgery of a major weight-bearing joint. To meet the requirements of this listing, you need medical documentation of all of the following:

  • reconstruction or surgical fusion of your ankle or foot
  • a twelve-month period where you've been functionally limited, and
  • a prescription for a walker, crutches, canes, or wheelchair that you need both hands to use.

If you haven't had corrective surgery, you can still qualify under listing 1.18, abnormality of a major joint in any extremity. In order to receive disability benefits under this listing, your medical records must contain evidence of all of the following:

  • chronic ankle pain and stiffness
  • abnormal motion, instability, or immobility in your ankle
  • physical exams or imaging (such as X-rays or MRIs) showing ankle abnormalities, and
  • a twelve-month period where you need to use a walker, crutches, canes, or wheelchair.

Note that for both listings 1.17 and 1.18, needing to use one cane or crutch isn't enough—you'll have to show that both your hands will be occupied to help you walk around (unless you have an additional medical condition that restricts use of your arms and hands).

Qualifying for Benefits From a Medical-Vocational Allowance

Most people aren't so severely limited that they meet the strict requirements of the disability listings. But you can still qualify for disability benefits if you can show that limitations from your club foot keep you from performing your past work and any other jobs.

Social Security determines whether you can work by looking at your medical records and functional limitations to come up with your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is a set of restrictions on the most you can do, physically and mentally, in a work environment.

What Your RFC Contains. A typical RFC for somebody with club foot will include restrictions on how long they can stand or walk. (These types of restrictions are known as exertional limitations.) For example, if you can't be on your feet for more than two hours in an eight-hour workday, your RFC will limit you to sedentary (sit-down) work.

Some people with clubfoot are able to do sit-down jobs without issue, but others struggle with pain and numbness that makes even sedentary work challenging. Their RFC might contain additional non-exertional limitations, including:

  • the need to elevate the legs in order to reduce pain in the foot and ankle
  • the ability to shift between sitting and standing at will, and
  • the need to take unscheduled breaks in order to control pain.

Make sure that you let the SSA know about all symptoms you have that are keeping you from working. Side effects from any medications you're taking can cause drowsiness at work. Chronic pain can interfere with how well you're able to concentrate on job tasks, and any mental health conditions you've developed as a result of living with pain can make it difficult to get along with your boss, your coworkers, and the general public.

How Social Security Uses Your RFC. The SSA will look at your work history and compare the demands of your past jobs with the limitations in your RFC. If the SSA decides that you can't perform your past work, the agency will determine whether you can do any other jobs given your age, education, and work experience.

For people over the age of 50, Social Security uses a special set of rules known as the medical-vocational grid to decide if they can easily learn to perform a less demanding job. Somebody with past work as a plumber, for example, who can only do sedentary work because of their club foot, is likely to be found disabled because the skills they learned as a plumber can't be used in a sit-down job (in Social Security lingo, these skills are "untransferable.")

People under the age of 50 will need to show that they can't do even the least demanding sit-down jobs full-time. If your RFC contains a limitation that you need to elevate your legs, or that you would be off-task too frequently during the day, Social Security will likely find no jobs exist that you can do and will award you disability benefits.

For more information, see our articles on proving you can't do sedentary work and how Social Security uses your RFC to determine disability.

How to Apply for Disability Benefits Based on Clubfoot

You can begin your application for Social Security disability benefits using the following methods:

  • File online at the SSA's website.
  • Call the SSA at 800-722-1212 from 7 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.
  • Visit your nearest Social Security field office and apply in person.

If you'd like assistance with your application, consider getting help from an experienced disability attorney or advocate. Your lawyer can gather the evidence needed to support a finding that you meet a listing or that you have an RFC that rules out all work.

Updated February 1, 2023

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