Is Fibromyalgia a Disability?
Is Fibromyalgia a Disability?
Fibromyalgia is a hidden condition. But is fibromyalgia a disability?
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a disability is any condition that affects somebody’s body or mind and makes it more difficult to do certain activities and interact with the world1.
People with the same disability may have very different needs. They might consider themselves to have a disability, they might prefer to identify as their specific disability, or they might not consider themselves to have a disability at all.
What counts as a disability covers a huge variety of different conditions. For example, conditions that affect someone’s hearing or vision, their movement, their mental health, their ability to think, learn and remember, or the way they communicate and have social relationships.
The World Health Organization defines a disability as including:
- impairment in a person’s body structure or function, or mental functioning
- activity limitation (e.g. difficulty hearing or walking)
- participation restrictions (e.g. finding it difficult to work or engage fully in relationships)2.
Lots of disabilities are invisible, meaning that they can’t easily be seen… like fibro.
Many people who live with fibromyalgia do find that their condition has a considerable impact on their quality of life. For example, over 50% do not have paid employment, and those who do lose 22.4 working days per year because of their condition.
Fibromyalgia can also have a big impact on someone’s personal relationships, their ability to complete unpaid work, and their emotional wellbeing. Members of the MoreGoodDays community and other fibromyalgia forums and support groups report struggling to do things such as take a shower, brush their hair, prepare a meal, or make the bed. A person’s mental health is particularly important and can influence their perceived disability level3.
Based on these facts and the definitions of a disability, fibromyalgia can certainly be considered a disability. Some people with fibro will consider themselves to have a disability and others will not.. If you have fibro, how you choose to label yourself and your condition may be based on the severity of your symptoms and the degree to which they impact your life.
United States disability support
The US Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recognizes fibromyalgia as a disability4,5 and fibro is increasing as a source of disability claims, payments and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations, with 25% of rheumatology patients receiving some form of disability support6.
If you live in the US, and you want to apply for disability you need:
- a medical diagnosis of fibromyalgia
- proof that your condition impacts your ability to work7 – this could include a medical certificate or evaluation from your physician or other healthcare provider that explains how your fibromyalgia impacts your work, or written communications with your employer or previous employer about the challenges your condition causes.
Under the ADA you can ask for accommodations at your workplace8, such as specific ergonomic adaptations, more regular breaks and so on. Again, you’ll probably need to provide documentation from your physician to show that you need these accommodations as part of a disability. For example, if your physician, physiotherapist, or other healthcare provider explains that an adjustable desk or specific sort of chair or voice dictation software could help you, ask them to provide a written recommendation for this.
Australia disability support
In Australia, fibromyalgia is not automatically recognized as a disability. However, if it significantly impacts your life and stops you from working for more than 2 years then you may be considered as having a disability and be eligible for financial help in the form of a Disability Support Pension (DSP)9.
To be eligible, you need to meet medical and financial requirements. This could include:
- providing information from your doctor about your condition and its impact on your life – this could be a medical diagnosis and evaluation that details how fibro impacts your ability to work or do household chores
- your financial situation and your ability to work – this could include statements from your bank or other financial institution, and written evidence from your doctor about how your condition has limited your ability to work. You could also include written communications with your employer or previous employer about the challenges your condition causes
- a written log (handwritten or using an app) of your symptoms over time, detailing what symptoms you experience, when, how severe they are, and how they impact your ability to do everyday tasks (optional to support your claim)
- attending DSP assessments10 (depending on the type of support you are applying for).
Tracking your symptoms and the impact on your life can be very helpful in preparation for these reviews.
Australia also has the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). They will assess your situation and your ability to work and may provide you with financial support if you are significantly impaired and this affects your ability to work, likely for your whole life11. Again, having written evidence from your usual doctor, rheumatologist, or other specialist can support your application.
Canada disability support
Canadian disability insurance considers fibromyalgia a disability so you may be able to get disability support.
There are several types of financial support available, including:
- gasoline tax refund program (a partial refund for gas if your condition impacts your mobility and prevents you from using public transport)
- a savings scheme to help you save for your future
- deductions for medical expenses
- support if you have a disability and care for a child or dependent who is under 25 years old
- financial support if you are unable to work in the form of a disability pension plan.
See the Government of Canada's disability benefits for more information.
The Canada Revenue Agency provides Disability Tax Credits that reduces the amount of tax you, or your support person, has to pay. However, as with other countries, it can be hard to prove your eligibility12,13,14.
For any of these support services, consider collecting the following evidence:
- a medical diagnosis
- written evidence from your physician and in the form of a self-reported log detailing your symptoms and how they impact you
- evidence about your condition's impact on your ability to work
- financial statements.
UK disability support
In the UK, you can be considered disabled if your fibro has been having a significant impact on your ability to do normal daily activities for 12 months or more. Fibromyalgia is recognized by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)15 and is recognized as a disability under the 2010 Act16 and following a 2019 debate in the House of Commons17.
The UK government offers Attendance Allowance (AA), Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP), and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)18. See the full list and more information on the UK Government website.
These are granted on the basis of need, depending on your needs and ability to work. To prove your eligibility, you may consider showing:
- a medical diagnosis
- written evidence from your doctor, employer, and by tracking your symptoms, to detail your symptoms and how they impact your ability to work and do everyday tasks
- financial statements and proof of financial hardship.
New Zealand disability support
In New Zealand, similar to Australia, fibromyalgia isn't automatically classified as a disability. But, depending on how your condition impacts you, you might be eligible for disability support19.
To be eligible for disability in New Zealand, you will need to prove that:
- your symptoms have been ongoing for at least 6 months
- your fibromyalgia impacts your life
- you have regular, ongoing costs as a result of your condition, and these costs are not fully covered by a different agency or support system – ask your doctor to complete a disability certificate on your behalf
- you are a New Zealand citizen or resident and live there full time.
The amount of financial support that you can receive depends on the total income in your home, and depending on your situation, there are different types of support available. Current details, financial thresholds and details on how to apply are available on the disability allowances webpage20.
View the New Zealand Government Whaikaha Ministry of Disabled People website for about how to access support, as well as other sources of information about disability services, seeking employment and job seeking support, and other financial support.
You can apply online through MyMSD.
Knowledge is power
What do I need to do?
Wherever you live, if you would like to access disability support for fibromyalgia you’ll probably need to do the following:
- Get a medical diagnosis and ask your doctor or physician for documentation. To get a diagnosis you’ll need to show that you have ongoing (more than 3 months) widespread pain and at least 6 months of other fibromyalgia symptoms. Tracking your symptoms can be a great tool for this. Your doctor may also conduct other tests to rule out other causes of your symptoms.
- Show documentation that proves you have been seeking medical advice and interventions, and that you have been consistently following medical advice and trying your best to improve your condition. Keep a spreadsheet or a page in a notebook that documents your appointments and treatments, and include any appointment confirmations and reminders, as well as any invoices, bills, or receipts for your medical appointments, tests, and treatments. This can include visits to a doctor, physiotherapist, psychologist, or other specialist, supplements or nutritional recommendations from your healthcare provider, mobility aids, medicines, and anything else that has been recommended to you by a healthcare professional.
- Show that your condition impacts your ability to undertake paid work. Use your calendar to show mow many days you used sick leave, or when you were last able to undertake paid work. This might also be through reports from work and your healthcare team, such as medical certificates to show you were unfit to work, or written communications with your employer or past employer detailing the challenges that you face and requesting part time work or resignation if application.
Although fibromyalgia can be debilitating, there is hope. Whether or not you choose to identify as having a disability. Whether or not you are currently able to work. Whether or not you are eligible for disability support.
Your pain is real. But many people with fibro have learned to better manage their condition and return to work or increase their working hours through a mixture of pain science education, pacing and movement, nutrition, and psychological approaches.
If you’d like to learn more, check your suitability for the multidisciplinary pain-management approach offered by MoreGoodDays.