Coping with Arthritis at Work
Living and working with arthritis can be painful and challenging. It can create physical and emotional stresses on a daily basis. This article looks at ways to help minimise these stresses so that you can manage at work, maintain your job and improve your well-being.
Many people with arthritis choose to work because financially they need the income but also working can improve self-esteem, help to keep mobile and psychologically and emotionally improve well-being and state of mind.
Choosing the Right Job and Environment
If you suffer from arthritis, you will know your limitations, but it is important not to dwell on them but to focus on all your strengths, skills and wonderful qualities that you have that employers can benefit from. When choosing a job, you will need to take time to consider what it is you enjoy doing or would like to do and think about the type of work environment that would best suit you and the level of physicality of the job role that is appropriate for you. Can you cope with full-time work or would part-time suit you better? What is the access to a building like, are there lots of stairs to negotiate? Will you be standing, sitting or walking for most of the time? Think about what activities cause you pain and how you can minimise these. Sleep is vitally important, so think about whether the type of work you choose will cause you prolonged pain or discomfort that could cause you to lose sleep and adversely affect your health.
Body Mechanics and Ergonomics to Ease the Pain of Arthritis
Using ergonomically designed equipment to assist you and being aware of good body mechanics, can help to reduce stresses on the joints of the body.
The positioning of your body whether you are sitting or standing in one position can play a crucial role in avoiding the aggravation of joints. Here are a few suggestions to help;-
- Wrists – keeping your hands and arms in a straight line reduces pressure on the nerves passing through the wrists avoiding pinching of the nerves.
- Joint Strain – when you are sitting down place your feet slightly forward as this brings the knees into a ‘neutral’ position reducing strain on the joints. If you are standing, mimic this by bending the knees slightly and not locking them straight which puts strain on the knee joints.
- Feet/knees- If you are standing for periods of time or on your feet a lot, aim to take regular breaks to sit down. If this is not possible, you could try placing one foot on a low footstool to release the pressure on the knee joint by bringing it into a slightly bent position and just make sure to alternate feet. This can also help to relieve strain on the lower back. If you spend a long time sitting at a desk, make sure you get up and walk about regularly to bring motion to your body.
Repetitive motions can aggravate and exacerbate arthritis pain as can staying in one position for too long. If your role involves repetitive motions, which can include working at a computer, try to take frequent breaks and change the motion and position of your body. Lifting objects can put strain on your back, arms and wrists so make sure you bend your knees when lifting to reduce these strain loads. Also, think about if you can store or arrange objects differently to minimise the amount of lifting you have to do and don’t be embarrassed to ask a colleague for help if you are struggling. While planning how to reduce lifting activities, also plan ahead for your activities during the day to reduce strain or pressure on joints. If you need to collect things via stairs, make a list of everything you will need during the day from different locations so you can reduce the number of trips you have to make.
If you are carrying objects, try to spread the weight over several joints to reduce excess pressure on one or two. For example, if you are carrying heavy files or shopping, use a shoulder bag or backpack to distribute the weight rather than straining hand and wrist joints. Take advantage of ergonomically designed equipment such as foldable wheeled trolleys, wheeled suitcases and briefcases to move items from one place to another easily and without you having to carry them.
There is a whole range of ergonomic equipment available to you. A few examples include;-
- computer keyboards which are designed to reduce pressure on nerves in the wrist
- chairs that allow you to adjust your position to one that suits you
- doorknob extenders make opening doors easier as you don’t have to use such a close grip which can be painful if you have arthritis in your hands or wrists
- levers on taps to make them easier to turn
- book holders / eBook holders can stop you from having to hold books, manuals or files and so save the strain on your arm, wrist and hand joints.
Maintaining Physical and Emotional Health at Work
While the tips above may help with coping physically at work it is also worth looking at how you can help your psychological and emotional well-being. Coping with pain can cause stress, depression and fatigue. Exercise may help to reduce and prevent pain, but if you are experiencing discomfort, you may not want to exercise.
However, regular exercise has been shown to;-
- increase muscle strength
- improve joint mobility and your range of movement
- boost your energy
- soothe and refresh your mind
- improve your mood
- reduce stiffness.
Obviously, you need to choose the right type and level of exercise for you and your GP can advise you about this.
Food and Drinks That Can Help Arthritis
Healthy eating is also important and can affect your physical, mental and emotional well-being. A healthy diet and exercise can help with weight management which is important with reducing the pressures and strain put on back and leg joints. According to Arthritis Care[i], as a general guide, a healthy diet involves eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, plenty of starchy foods, such as wholegrain bread, rice and pasta. Some protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, beans, some milk and dairy products, only small amounts of foods high in fat, salt or sugar. They also point out that it is important to drink six to eight glasses of fluid a day – water, tea, coffee, fruit juice and milk all count towards the total.
Foods that are believed to help reduce inflammation and pain of arthritis include;-
- Oily fish which are high in omega-3 fatty acids or if you don’t like fish try soybeans such as edamame and tofu
- Walnut oil is high in omega-3s as well
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil contains oleocanthal which has an anti-inflammatory effect
- Leafy green foods containing calcium and vitamin D can help with bone health
- Researchers believe broccoli could slow the progression of osteoarthritis
- Green tea is an anti-inflammatory and believed to slow cartilage breakdown and block molecule production that causes joint damage in people with rheumatoid arthritis.