The knee is the largest weight-bearing joint in the body, carrying most of the body weight when standing or walking. A chronic and severe knee condition can greatly impact the ability to work, though many knee problems are short-lived as they are easily managed through physical therapy, surgery, or medication. To be awarded disability under the Social Security Act, the impairment must persist or be expected to last for twelve months or longer. Diagnoses of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout are commonly occurring causes of chronic knee pain.
If the problem is severe enough to affect the ability to ambulate effectively, disability may be awarded under Listings 1.02 or 14.09. In many cases, an individual with a knee problem can still ambulate, but may be limited in the amount of time spent on their feet. An individual restricted to standing or walking no more than two hours total in an eight-hour day would be limited to sedentary jobs. While many sedentary jobs still exist in the national economy, an individual over the age of 50 who has never had a sedentary job may still be awarded benefits.
Even at the sedentary level, the national occupational base may be eroded by further limitations stemming from a knee condition. Frequent swelling or edema, for example, could warrant leg elevations above the waist. Such elevations are typically not permissible on any job.
Obesity also has a significant impact on the knees, as extra weight can make a big difference on knee pressure and pain. Experts estimate that each pound of weight forces three pounds of pressure on the knees per step, so an extra ten pounds of weight forces another 30 pounds of pressure on the knees.* So, obesity is likely to exacerbate knee pain. Pain levels can affect one’s ability to maintain concentration, persistence, and pace, even on a sedentary job.
To determine whether a knee problem qualifies for disability benefits under the Social Security Act, consider consulting with an attorney specializing in Social Security Disability law.