Bursitis is an inflammation of a "bursa," a small sac of fluid that's present in all of your joints. Normal bursae (the plural of bursa) allow for muscles to slide across the bones smoothly and painlessly. For individuals with bursitis, movement of the joints becomes painful, because the bursae that are meant to protect us from pain become inflamed. Every time a joint is moved that has bursitis, the already inflamed bursa gets more irritated.
Bursitis most often occurs in the elbows, knees, shoulders, and hips, but it can occur at any joint. Symptoms of bursitis include:
Chronic bursitis can lead to calcium deposits within the bursa, called "calcific bursitis."
The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that chronic pain from bursitis can take a toll on the mind and the body. When you can't use your joints to bend, walk, reach, or lift objects, you can struggle to perform daily tasks. For those who suffer from bursitis, the physical demands of working may be too much to handle.
If you've been unable to work for at least a year because of bursitis, you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits. In order to qualify, you must show that your condition limits you from activity so much that you can't return to work. Or, if your condition is especially severe, you might meet the requirements of a disability listing from Social Security's "blue book" of impairment listings.
Social Security doesn't have a specific listing for bursitis in its blue book, but if the bursitis is severe enough, you might meet the requirements of the disability listing for joint abnormalities.
Social Security might evaluate your bursitis using the joint dysfunction listing if it causes or is caused by an abnormality like:
Also, to meet this listing, your bursitis must cause chronic pain or stiffness that limits your ability to walk or use your arms effectively. And your medical evidence should include X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans that show an abnormality like joint dislocation or ankylosis. Ankylosis can also be diagnosed through the use of lab tests.
If you aren't able to show that your bursitis meets the requirements of the joint abnormality listing, you might be able to receive Social Security benefits by demonstrating that the physical limitations from bursitis prevent you from returning to any job.
You can provide evidence of your physical limitations and restrictions through your physician's notes and accounts from others who can speak about your limitations. But if your main complaint is pain, the SSA will usually want to see a diagnosis from a physical exam or medical imaging (such as ultrasound or MRI) that shows your bursitis.
In determining if you can work any job despite your limitations, Social Security uses a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form that catalogs your physical and mental limitations. Social Security considers your RFC form, as well as your age, education, and work experience, when making the final determination as to whether you can return to any job.
Bursitis can cause walking and moving your arms to be painful. And repetitive motions are also irritating and may worsen the bursitis. Other physical requirements of work, including lifting and carrying items or even standing, might not be possible for those with bursitis. To qualify for benefits, you want limitations like these to appear in your RFC, but Social Security will include them in your RFC only if your doctor has recorded them in their clinical notes or in a doctor's RFC statement. For more information, see our article on Social Security disability RFCs.
Bursitis may worsen over time and lead to enlargement of the bursa and muscle atrophy (deterioration), which can in turn lead to more inflammation and pain. If you don't currently qualify for Social Security Disability benefits for bursitis but you develop other problems, they can combine to make you disabled for Social Security disability purposes. For more information, see our article on getting disability benefits for multiple medical conditions.
Updated May 9, 2023