Going to work with arthritis

A job primarily provides financial independence and can be a source of pride. However, if you have arthritis, your job may become more difficult due to joint pain.

Sitting in a chair for a good portion of the day might seem good for someone with arthritis. But, regular movement is ideal for keeping joints limber and mobile. So, sitting for long periods is counterproductive to arthritis treatments.

Here are some tips for being as pain-free as possible:

  • Sit up straight. Sitting up straight keeps the spine aligned properly, prevents lower back pain, and keeps your neck from straining.
  • Position your keyboard correctly. The farther away your keyboard is, the more you must lean in to reach it. That means adding unnecessary strain on your neck, shoulders, and arms. Keep your keyboard at a comfortable distance so your arms can rest easily on your desk while you sit up straight.
  • Use ergonomic devices: An orthopedic chair, a keyboard rest, or even a small pillow can help you feel more comfortable.
  • Get up and walk around. Getting up from time to time is a good way to incorporate some movement into your day.
  • Move while sitting. Simply extending your legs occasionally is good for your arthritis. It can prevent your knees from stiffening.

Working the coffee counter, the line in a kitchen, or anywhere else you stand for long periods requires repetitive movements that can be just as damaging to joints as inactivity.

Activity is important for people with arthritis. But getting relief from pain when standing a lot may be difficult.

Here are some tips to keep movement to a minimum when you’re standing all day:

  • Stay organized. Keep what you need closest to you. These items include tools, paperwork, and electronic devices. While movement is important, unnecessary stretching and pulling can tire you out more quickly.
  • Lift smart. Improper lifting is a common way to cause injury. People with arthritis need to be especially careful when lifting because of the deterioration of joints and inflammation caused by arthritis. Ask for help or use a back brace to prevent injury to muscles and joints.
  • Move. Standing in one position all day can increase stiffness. Bend your knees occasionally if you stand all day. Stooping down for a second gives the knees a chance to release built-up pressure caused by standing all day.

It doesn’t matter if you’re working a 6-hour or a 12-hour shift, break time is important. It can be both a mental break and great opportunity to recharge physically.

Whether you sit or stand all day, it’s important to take a few minutes to do the following during break time:

  • Stretch. One easy rule is, if it hurts, move it. If your knees hurt, take some time to stretch them out, even if it’s as simple as trying to touch your toes. Slowly roll your head around to loosen your neck muscles. Make a tight fist, then stretch out your fingers to get blood flowing to the joints in your hands.
  • Walk. Going for a quick walk around the block or to a local park gets you moving. And being outdoors can help relieve unwanted stress.
  • Water. Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated.
  • Sit if you need to. Arthritis requires a fine balance of movement and rest. You don’t want to overdo it, so give your joints a rest occasionally. You may need more rest when inflammation occurs, but don’t let it get to the point where movement is difficult because you’ve rested too long.

Tell your employer about your arthritis. Help them understand that you may need extra time to do certain tasks, or that you might not be able to do any heavy lifting.

The best course of action is to get a letter from your doctor and present it to your boss or someone in your human resources department. This ensures the people you work with are aware of your arthritis.

Informing your employer can help you obtain necessary accommodations, like reassignment to a position that doesn’t require standing all day, or access to assistive devices that help make your job easier. It also helps protect you against unlawful termination.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the most extensive legal measure to protect employees with disabilities. It applies to companies with more than 15 employees. It covers discrimination in hiring and employing of people with disabilities. To be considered disabled, your arthritis must “substantially limit” major life activities such as walking or working.

Under the law, employers are required to give employees “reasonable accommodations,” including:

  • part-time or adjusted work schedules
  • job restructuring, such as eliminating nonessential tasks
  • providing assistive devices or equipment
  • making the work place more accessible, like altering the height of a desk

However, some accommodations that cause your employer “significant difficulty or expense” may not be covered under the law. You have the option of providing it yourself or sharing the expenses with your employer.

You can get more information about the ADA and other applicable laws from your human resources department.