Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common type of inflammatory arthritis. It’s a chronic disease that causes stiffness, pain, redness, and swelling in the joints. In time, any of the joints that are impacted may become damaged, misaligned, and possibly misshapen. The joint’s tissue lining can thicken and wear away at the ligaments, bone, and cartilage that surround it. Most often, if you have RA in one hand or one knee, the joint in the other hand or knee will also have it.

People of every ethnic background, race, age, and gender can suffer from RA; however, approximately 75 percent are women. While the cause of RA isn’t known, researchers have a clearer picture of how genetics and the body’s immune system influence the inflammatory processes that factor into the development of RA.   

If you are one of the 1.3 million Americans who suffer from RA, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA’s “Blue Book” Impairment Listing provides the criteria to qualify for benefits. Even if you’re eligible for disability, you may want a legal expert to help with your claim.

What Are the Symptoms of RA? 

Morning stiffness is the trademark symptom of RA. Unlike stiffness from osteoarthritis (OA) that usually ends in about 30 minutes, the stiffness of RA can last for an hour or more. Patients usually experience worsened symptoms of stiffness after they’ve been sitting for a long time and after sleeping. Here is a brief look at other major symptoms of RA:

  • Pain and swelling. Inflamed joints usually swell and feel warm to the touch. To be diagnosed with RA, joint pain and swelling must occur for six weeks or more. While symmetrical joints are usually affected—fingers on both hands, both knees, both shoulders—sometimes the pain may be more severe on one side of the body. Joints that are most commonly affected are the wrists and knuckles; however, the balls of the feet and knees are often impacted, too. Other joints may be attacked, including those in the shoulders, elbows, jaw, and cervical spine. It’s rare for RA to develop in the fingertips—it’s more common in OA. However, RA sufferers may feel pain at the base of the fingers.
  • Nodules or lumps under the skin. When small blood vessels are inflamed, they can cause nodules or lumps under the skin. This occurs in approximately 20 percent of people who suffer from RA. These lumps are usually no larger than a pea and, although they can be located anywhere, they are most often found near the elbow. These nodules may occur throughout the duration of a patient’s condition. It’s possible for the nodules to become infected if they are in areas of the body that handle stress, such as the ankles; however, these infections are rare. Additionally, the occurrence of nodules may mean that the patient has rheumatoid vasculitis—which impacts the blood vessels in other organs such as the kidneys and lungs.
  • A buildup of fluid. People who suffer from RA may accumulate fluid in certain areas of the body, especially in the ankles. Likewise, the joint sac behind the knee may collect fluid that can form into a Baker’s cyst—a tumor-like growth that can cause pain down the back of the calf.
  • Characteristics of the flu. Sometimes the symptoms of RA present like the flu. Patients may feel tired, lose weight, and have a fever. These symptoms often occur in the early stages of RA and have been described as flu-like or similar to a cold.
  • A rash. In children, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA)—also called Still’s disease—will often present with a pink skin rash along with a high fever, chills, and joint pain and swelling.

We Can Help

If you suffer from RA and are unable to work, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Because the SSA recognizes the severity of RA and how debilitating it can be, you can qualify with the appropriate medical evidence. Let the lawyers at Cuddigan Law help you provide that evidence and submit your claim. Or if you’ve applied and were denied benefits, call us at (402) 933-5405. We’ll schedule an appointment to discuss your eligibility for compensation.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska