Arthritis, Hand Pain, and Disability Insurance: A Claimant’s Guide

Hand-intensive work that involves gripping, grasping repetitive motions, or vibration can take a toll on your body. As we age, studies show that we’re more likely to develop hand arthritis and pain—and if you’re a dentist, surgeon, or work in another field that requires dexterity and hand strength, your condition may quickly become disabling.

If you’re considering filing a claim for short-term or long-term disability insurance, we want to help. Our lawyers assist people living with osteoarthritis and hand pain with their disability insurance claims. In this article, we discuss the essentials of hand-related claims and suggest some simple ways you can strengthen your application for benefits.

Please note that this article focuses on long-term disability (LTD) insurance and hand pain, not Social Security disability insurance or SSI benefits. Our lawyers typically do not represent individuals in stand-alone Social Security disability claims.

What Causes Hand Pain?

A variety of conditions can cause hand pain and functional limitations:

  • Osteoarthritis: the most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage and other protective tissues around your joints start to break down. This can cause swelling and damage to the joint.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation in your joints’ linings. Over time, this can cause permanent damage and even deformities in your joints.
  • Median neuropathy (carpal tunnel syndrome): pressure on your median nerve, which runs through your wrist and into your hand, can cause numbness, tingling, weakness, and other symptoms. While carpal tunnel release surgeries often help resolve these problems, you can suffer permanent damage to the nerve.
  • Ulnar neuropathy (cubital tunnel syndrome): the ulnar nerve is the other major nerve that runs through your arm and into your hand. This nerve affects part of your middle finger, ring finger, and little finger. Compression can cause numbness, tingling, weakness, and permanent nerve damage.
  • Tendinitis: tendons are the thick tissues that connect muscles to bones. Overuse and trauma can cause pain, tenderness, and swelling. De Quervain’s tenosynovitis and trigger finger are two common forms of tendinitis in the hand.
  • Bursitis: a bursa is a tiny sac of fluid that helps cushion a joint. Overuse of a joint can cause swelling in a bursa, which is sometimes called bursitis. This condition can be painful, and you may even notice swelling or a lump in your wrist or hand.

Other times, people develop structural deformities, infections, or suffer trauma that seriously damages their hands. Any of these conditions can be disabling under certain circumstances. However, before applying for disability insurance benefits, you should carefully review your short-term or long-term disability policy and your situation.

Can I Get Disability for Arthritis in My Hands?

Your eligibility for disability insurance benefits will depend on a series of factors. First, you’ll need to identify your policy’s definition of “disability.” Most short-term and long-term disability plans use one of the following definitions:

  • Own occupation: you must show that you are unable to perform the duties of your actual job.
  • Any occupation: you must show that you’re unable to perform any type of work due to your hand arthritis and other medical conditions.

Once you understand your disability insurance policy’s definition of disability, you’ll need to assess your circumstances, considering the severity of your condition, your work background, and other factors. However, if your disability insurance claim centers around hand pain, it may be significantly easier to receive benefits if you have an “own occupation” policy.

For example, suppose you are a periodontist. Your work is very hand intensive, and you are constantly gripping, grasping, and manipulating tools. You develop significant osteoarthritis in your hands, making it impossible for you to perform routine procedures like scaling, root planing, and dental implant surgeries. With an “own occupation” policy, you only have to prove that you are no longer able to work as a periodontist. However, if you have an “any occupation” policy, you may have to show that your hand condition prevents you from doing less hand-intensive work, like teaching at a dental school, working as a consultant, or even performing simple work like working as a store greeter.

RELATED: Own Occupation vs. Any Occupation Definitions of Disability


4 Ways You Can Strengthen Your Disability Claim for Hand Pain

1. Get the Medical Care You Need

We encourage our clients to maintain consistent and ongoing medical care for two reasons. First, it can help you recover or regain function—and our goal is always for people to live the fullest and healthiest lives possible. Also, if you delay care, you may experience unwanted medical setbacks and complications.

Second, it’s not easy to convince an insurance adjuster or judge that you’re disabled due to hand pain and arthritis. You’ll need strong evidence that supports your claims and documents the severity of your condition—and medical records are essential. Depending on your diagnosis and circumstances, your evidence might include:

  • MRI and CT scans
  • X-rays
  • EMGs and nerve conduction studies
  • Blood and other diagnostic tests
  • Operative reports
  • Doctor’s notes and physical therapy records

When these documents support your disability insurance claim, you’ll have a better chance of getting the benefits you deserve.

2. Look Out for Limitations and Loopholes

Insurance companies are more interested in their profitability than your welfare. Many disability insurance policies include vague limitations and loopholes that may reduce or eliminate your monthly benefits. For example, some short-term and long-term disability policies will not cover work-related injuries. If your profession is hand-intensive, the insurance adjuster might try to deny your claim—even if other factors contributed to your condition.

Before you apply for disability insurance benefits, it’s a good idea to review your Summary Plan Description or Plan Document. These documents outline your policy’s essential terms and conditions, including all of its limitations and exclusions. Once you identify any potential stumbling blocks in your policy, you and your disability insurance lawyer can build a plan to address them.

Before you apply for disability insurance benefits, it’s a good idea to review your Summary Plan Description or Plan Document. These documents outline your policy’s essential terms and conditions, including all of its limitations and exclusions. Once you identify any potential stumbling blocks in your policy, you and your disability insurance lawyer can build a plan to address them.

3. Don’t Overdo It

No one wants to admit that they can’t do the things they love, whether it’s your job or a favorite hobby. However, pushing yourself too far can damage your disability insurance claim.

First, exceeding your doctor’s restrictions may result in a reinjury. Second, insurance companies are always looking for ways to erode your credibility or deny your claim. It’s not uncommon for them to hire private investigators in long-term disability claims who will track your activities online and in real life. If you’re “caught” doing hand-intensive work, the insurance company may argue that your conditions aren’t that bad—and deny your claim.

4. Consult With an Experienced Disability Lawyer

Disability insurance claims require careful medical and legal analysis, and a single misstep can cost you the benefits you deserve. To give yourself a fighting chance, it’s in your best interest to consult with a respected disability insurance attorney early on. That way, you can ensure that you meet all of your policy’s deadlines, understand its precise terms and conditions, and build a stronger case from day one.

Bryant Legal Group: Chicago’s Disability Insurance Lawyers

Bryant Legal Group is one of Chicago’s foremost disability insurance law firms. We focus on complex disability insurance claims and guide our clients through their applications for benefits and appeals. If you have questions about how hand pain or arthritis impacts your disability insurance claim, contact our office today. We’ll help you understand your legal options and treat you with the respect you deserve.

To schedule an appointment, either complete our online form or call us at (312) 561-3010.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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