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Arthritis and Your Career
9/23 16:53:38

Is your arthritis making your work difficult? You can take control of the situation by knowing your rights, and by taking action to minimize the impact of arthritis on your career.

Whether your arthritis pain is related to rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, one thing is certain: When it comes to your workplace, the pain and limited mobility of arthritis can make your job — or finding the right job — a real challenge.

If your job involves physical work like construction or manufacturing, it’s easy to see how arthritis can make it hard to execute tasks, especially during a flare. But even if you work in an office, basic tasks and even just sitting in one place for long periods of time can be challenging when joints stiffen.

Kristina Theis, MPH, an epidemiologist with the Arthritis Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has devoted a good portion of her career to studying the impact of arthritis on people in the workplace.

“The reality is that, in one way or another, arthritis can affect almost every aspect of your job,” she says. “This is more evident when there’s lots of manual labor involved, but even standard office settings can pose a lot of challenges for people. Using a keyboard or mouse for a long time can be painful, and different temperatures can also be aggravating for those with arthritis. Sometimes even the challenges involved with commuting to work can take a real toll on people with arthritis, so they end up being taxed by their arthritis before they even get to work.”

Choosing a Career When You Have Arthritis

If you’re a young person with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, one of the easiest ways to avoid exacerbating the condition through your work is to choose a career that’s less likely to have a negative impact on your health and avoid those that take a greater toll on the body. “Careers in farming and forestry or certain construction jobs, such as carpet laying, have been shown to aggravate arthritis,” Theis says.

However, because a management job in an office setting could still pose challenges, Theis is of the opinion that it’s better to choose the job that’s right for you and then take full advantage of the array of options and accessories available to make work easier for you and your arthritis.

Tips for Coping With Arthritis at Work

Step No. 1 in managing arthritis at work, explains Theis, is to work on managing arthritis in general. She recommends having regular visits with your doctor and enrolling in an arthritis self-management program to learn the tools it takes to gain better control of your pain. The Arthritis Foundation offers a number of fitness classes throughout the United States. 

Next, investigate tools to better manage arthritis in your specific workplace. New office equipment, such as an ergonomic chair and keyboard, will help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome and other problems. Another approach is to rethink your desk, says Theis. Consider a sit/stand workstation, where the computer and work surface can be adjusted to allow the user to sit for part of the day and stand for part of the day. Sometimes varying your position can be enough to relieve or prevent pain whether you have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

Some approaches are even simpler. For example, if you can work a flexible schedule, take a longer break in the morning and afternoon rather than a long lunch break to better break up the day and prevent arthritis pain from becoming overwhelming.

Theis points out that sometimes small and surprising changes can do the most good. “If somebody has to do a lot of stapling at their job, for example, an electric stapler can be a huge help,” she says. “I met a social worker who was able to continue doing her job with arthritis by getting a page turner, a book holder, and dictation software for her office.”

Arthritis at Work: Knowing Your Workplace Rights

A different kind of challenge related to arthritis in the workplace is upward mobility and whether your potential for advancement is being compromised because of your condition. “Many people are passed over or have to decline advancement opportunities because of their arthritis,” says Theis.

It’s important to remember that you have workplace rights protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. So if you feel you are being discriminated against as a result of your arthritis, you have some recourse.

Theis says the best way to approach this issue is to have an open, candid dialogue with your supervisors. Simply explain the problems and limitations you’re having with your current job as a result of your arthritis and explore what can be done to help you advance. If you can, it’s much better to do this in a conversational manner before the situation becomes confrontational. Most of the time an employer will want to create the best atmosphere possible for you. 

To learn more about your workplace rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, check out the Job Accommodation Network, which has information available for both employees and employers at

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