Arthritis: a Frequent Reason for Disability Claims

The Arthritis Society of Canada defines arthritis as a disease characterized by inflammation of the joint. Arthritis can affect any joints in the body, but occurs most often in the hip, knee, spine and other weight bearing joints. It can also affect other joints, such as the fingers.

The symptoms of arthritis are joint pain, stiffness, swelling and fatigue. When inflammation from arthritis is untreated or progresses, it can result in even more serious effects, such as joint damage and disability. Some types of arthritis can have damaging affects on a person’s internal organs, as well.

Although joint and musculoskeletal pain is the defining symptom of arthritis, there are actually over 100 conditions that fall under the categorization of arthritis. These include fairly mild cases of tendinitis or bursitis, to crippling forms of systemic arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Pain syndromes such as systemic lupus erythematosus and fibromyalgia, which affect every part of a person’s body, are also considered forms of arthritis.

The most common arthritis, which affects more than 3 million Canadians, is osteoarthritis (OA). OA results when the body attempts to repair joint tissues that were damaged and may occur both due to injury or abnormal stress, as well as normal aging. Osteoarthritis leads to a breakdown of cartilage and underlying bone, which causes pain, swelling, stiffness and a reduction in the range of movement in the joint that has been affected. A significant source of pain in osteoarthritis occurs when a person’s bones rub together at a joint, after cartilage has broken down.

Another common form of arthritis is inflammatory arthritis. This is a group of conditions in which the body’s natural defense system attacks the tissues in the affected person’s joints. In addition to pain and stiffness, this process can lead to damage to the joint resulting in deformities which cannot be repaired once damaged. The key to reducing inflammation and subsequent joint damage is early treatment. Inflammatory arthritis is frequently referred to as ‘systemic’ because it may affect the entire body. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis are the most common forms of this condition. In addition to joint pain, rheumatoid arthritis is a serious condition that can cause organ problems and skin rashes.

One of the most debilitating symptoms of arthritis is chronic pain, and although pain medication may reduce the level of pain for some sufferers, for others, the persistent and sometimes acute pain makes it difficult to function in everyday activities and work. The Arthritis Society asserts that “arthritis can turn even the simplest tasks [including getting dressed or washing yourself] into a real challenge”. What makes matters even worse for sufferers is that many people with arthritis also struggle with feeling tired and lacking energy, and fatigue is considered the ‘silent symptom’ of arthritis. Fatigue may be directly associated with the condition and arthritic pain, or may be caused indirectly as a result of depression, stress, poor quality sleep, lack of exercise and even a side effect of medication.

Arthritis is a leading cause of long-term disability in Canada, and many Canadians of working age are affected by this condition. When someone has arthritis, they typically have an increasingly difficult time doing their job. Pain, tiredness, depression, limited mobility and stress can make it impossible to work effectively, and unexpected arthritis flare-ups make the situation even worse. In addition to the physical challenges of arthritis, many arthritis sufferers struggle with low self-esteem, in part due to feelings of inadequacy and stress when they are no longer able to function the way they previously did.

Understandably, when a person’s arthritis impacts their ability to sit or stand for significant periods, move their hands and/or lift objects, their condition will also impact the ability to perform many tasks required in the workplace. Physically demanding jobs are particularly difficult, if not impossible, to perform with arthritis, but joint pain can also diminish a person’s ability to perform other jobs as well, such as office and retail work, which generally require long periods sitting or standing as well as dexterity on a computer keyboard.

Prior to making a claim for disability benefits due to arthritis, a person needs to have sought medical care for their condition and then followed their doctor’s recommendations for treatment. If you are under the care of a physician due to arthritis, your physician will assess the degree of your disability based on the types of activities you are able (and not able) to perform, such as: walking up stairs; lifting 10 or more pounds, grasping objects with your hands and opening containers, standing or sitting for two hours, and holding your hands up.

Arthritis is accepted as a common cause of long-term disability in Canada, so once you have obtained a diagnosis and are under a physician’s care for your arthritis, you can make a claim for long-term disability benefits if your symptoms prevent you from wholly performing your job.

It’s important to understand the eligibility requirements for long-term disability benefits -in the first two years, your application for benefits needs to substantiate that arthritis prevents you from performing the essential tasks of your current job; after two years, eligibility rests on your ability to perform any job for which they are reasonably suited. Proving your eligibility for long-term disability benefits requires that your application for benefits includes medical evidence from your treating physician documenting how your symptoms prevent you from performing specific tasks required in your workplace.

If you are unable to perform your job due to arthritis but were denied long-term disability benefits from your disability insurance provider, the disability lawyers at Kotak Personal Injury Law can help. At Kotak Law, our staff has successfully represented many clients when their insurance company terminated their benefits while they were still unable to work or denied their application for benefits. Call Kotak Law to talk to one of our disability claims experts and learn about the best strategy for getting the benefits you are owed.