While our jobs primarily give us financial independence, they can also be a source of pride. Arthritis can make our jobs more difficult, taking a personal toll that stretches beyond joint pain.
While sitting in a chair for a good portion of a day might seem easy to some, it's not so simple for many people with arthritis. Because regular movement is ideal for keeping joints limber and mobile, an eight-hour workday stuck in a cubicle is counterproductive for the treatment process.
Here are some tips to making the 9-to-5 as pain-free as possible:
- Sit up straight: You can almost hear your mother's voice saying it, but guess what? Mom was right. 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 have to lean 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 devices: An orthopedic chair, a keyboard rest, or even a small pillow can help you get the most comfort out of your workplace.
- Get up and walk around: The water cooler might be the place for gossip, but getting up and getting a glass of water — or walking over to a coworker’s desk instead of sending an email — incorporates some movement into an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
- Move while sitting: Simply extending your legs every once in a while can prevent knees from stiffening. Don't be afraid of fidgeting — it's good for your arthritis.
On Your Feet
Working the coffee counter, the line in a kitchen, or anywhere else you stand for long periods of time is filled with repetitive movements that can be just as damaging to joints as inactivity can. While activity is important for arthritis patients, getting relief when the pain is too much to bear can sometimes be difficult during some jobs.
Here are some tips to keep movement to a minimum when you're doing it all day long:
- Stay organized: Keep what you need the closest to you, whether it be tools, paperwork, electronic devices, or whatever it is you use the most. While movement is important, unnecessary stretching and pulling could tire you out quicker than you want.
- Lift smart: Injuries from improper lifting are common ways to put anyone out of work, whether they have arthritis or not. People with arthritis need to be especially careful when lifting because of the deterioration and inflammation caused by arthritis. Ask for help, use a back brace, or do whatever you see fit to prevent injury to muscles and joints.
- Move: Standing in one position all day can increase stiffness. Look for an excuse to bend your knees if you stand all day. Stooping down for a second gives the knees a chance to release built-up pressure from standing up all day.
It doesn’t matter if you're working a six- or 12-hour shift, break time often feels sacred. Not only is it a mental break, but it's a great opportunity to recharge physically.
Whether you sit all day long or you're on your feet from dusk till dawn, it's important to take a few minutes to consider your arthritis:
- Stretch: One easy rule that might seem odd 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. Roll your head around to loosen your neck. Make a tight fist then stretch out your fingers to get blood flowing to the joints in your hands.
- Walk: Grabbing a few coworkers and going for a quick walk around the block or to a local park not only gets you moving, but the fresh air and socializing can help shed unwanted stress.
- Water: Drink plenty of it. 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 flares up, but don't let it get to the point where movement is difficult because you've rested for too long.
Talk to Your Boss
Telling your employer about your arthritis can be beneficial. It will help them understand that you may need some extra time to do certain tasks, or that you might not be able to do any unnecessary heavy lifting.
The best course of action is to get a letter from your doctor and present it to your immediate supervisor and appropriate staff from the human resources department. This ensures those overseeing your day-to-day work are aware, as well as the people who handle your health benefits.
Informing your employer can help you obtain necessary accommodations, such as reassignment to a position that doesn't require standing all day or access to devices to help you do your job more effectively. It also helps you protect your legal rights in case of unlawful termination.
Know Your Rights
The Americans with Disabilities Act is the most extensive legal measure to protect employees with disabilities and employers. It impacts companies with more than 15 employees and covers discrimination in both hiring and employment of people with disabilities. In order to be considered disabled, your arthritis must "substantially limit" major life activities such as walking, manual labor, 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 that are troublesome
- providing assistive devices or equipment
- making the work place more accessible (e.g., altering the height of a desk)
However, some assistance that provides 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.
For more information, you can request a copy of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other applicable laws from your human resources department.