An arthritis diagnosis is a hard pill to digest. This inflammatory disease that causes pain and swelling in joints and worsens with time can sound like a death sentence for your career. So, how can you continue working with arthritis to stay financially independent while also feeling useful and productive? Accept that arthritis will create work challenges for you, but you CAN still have a thriving career, if you choose to.
Be Prepared: Your Arthritis Diagnosis WILL Impact Your Job
Yes, working with arthritis comes with many hurdles. The physical limitations brought on by the pain and loss of range of motion in affected joints will mean you need to adapt your workplace and working style. Sometimes, you may even have to switch careers to get a desk job.
A longitudinal study done in California in 1987 observed 698 Rheumatoid arthritis patients. In the study, researchers found that 50% of RA patients with some work experience stopped working within a decade of diagnosis, 60% within 15 years, and 90% within 30 years. Researchers noted that the probability of work loss is lessened among persons in jobs that have few physical requirements.
Another study found that among work factors, control over the pace and activities of work and self-employment status had the greatest effect on continued employment.This suggested that time control issues are crucial to the maintenance of one’s job after the onset of arthritis.
In a Canadian study, researchers found that depression is common in working adults with arthritis. Lower workplace support and greater workplace activity limitations were significantly associated with future depressive symptoms. An association was also found between greater pain catastrophizing and future depressive symptoms.
So what does this mean for someone who is working with arthritis? It’s very important to enjoy your job, and to be comfortable at work. Your job doesn’t just pay the bills, it also gives you a sense of pride and fulfillment, which is crucial for your emotional and mental health. The above mentioned Canadian study concluded that workplace interventions should address not only ways to reduce workplace activity limitations but also ways to better manage emotional distress related to working with arthritis. More importantly, there is a lot YOU can do to ensure your career doesn’t have to end early because of an arthritis diagnosis.
How Can You Adapt Your Workplace To Minimize The Impact Of Arthritis?
- If your pain is worst in the mornings and you work the early shift, don’t be afraid to request for a change in shift timings. This will help you remain productive at work by staying relatively pain-free.
- Pick out ergonomic accessories and tools to make life easier for yourself. An ergonomically designed chair, stool and keyboard rest will go a long way towards keeping you comfortable while you work.
- Make sure you take hourly breaks to get up and stretch. Arthritis leads to stiffness of joints, and you can experience pain, tenderness and numbness when you sit in a position for too long.
- Work with a therapist to attain good posture. When you sit up straight and don’t slouch at your desk, there is lesser strain on the joints of the neck, spine and lower back, keeping you more comfortable.
- Choose to move around as much as possible, without being counterproductive. Don’t email your colleague to discuss work, instead walk over to their desk to talk to them in person. Walk to the water-cooler to get a glass of water or the pantry to fix yourself a cup of tea every few hours. This will keep your joints mobile and limber, reducing pain and stiffness.
- Have a couple of minutes before the next client call? Do some stretching exercises for affected joints at your desk to keep stiffness at bay. Your doctor will advise you on the best exercises you can repeat several times a day right at your desk to maintain desirable range of motion in affected joints.
- Don’t ignore pain. If your affected knee or wrist is hurting, don’t try to power through to finish your work. You’ll only worsen things for later. Instead, stretch the joint and massage it to improve blood flow to the affected area.
- Take care of your diet. Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. It lubricates joints, flushes out toxins and keeps inflammation at bay. And on that note, request for a seat nearer to the restroom if you must. There’s no harm in looking out for your best interests.
- Do not over-exert. Know that when it comes to arthritis, it’s important to achieve a fine balance between rest and movement. If you feel that your arthritic knee is starting to swell up, it’s time to sit down and get some rest. The idea is to keep moving to reduce stiffness so that you don’t experience excruciating pain after sitting in the same position for too long. But refrain from overdoing it. Insisting on walking when your knee is swollen up will only cause pain and further damage to your affected joints.
Should You Look For A Job Change After An Arthritis Diagnosis?
Not all jobs are equal. Some require you to stay on your feet all day, move around a lot, travel a lot and are more physically demanding. Let’s be honest here – in time, all of these will become difficult for you. The pain, stiffness and fatigue brought on by a physically challenging job will eventually make you inefficient and negatively affect your performance. If you want to be in control of your job search, an accurate self-perception is a must. Acknowledge the challenges that come with your medical condition and make sure your job makes you as comfortable as possible when at work. So, if your job involves strenuous manual labor — heavy lifting, carrying, standing and walking for extended periods of time, it is time to look for a desk job.
Also, if your job operates on a tight, precise schedule, it can be beneficial to look for something more flexible. As your disease progresses, you will need more time off because of unexpected flare ups and doctor’s visits. Additionally, sometimes a change in career is inevitable when affected joints make it impossible for you to carry on with your job. For example – if you are an esthetician or sewist with arthritis in fingers or wrist, or if you’re a driver with arthritis in ankles and knees, it is prudent to look for a new job while you still have quite a few good years left to continue earning a livelihood.
Should You Disclose Your Condition?
When recently diagnosed with arthritis, many people debate whether they should tell their employer about their condition or not.
While you are not required to disclose your condition to your boss by law, sometimes it can be beneficial to be honest. An understanding employer will give you the control over the pace and activities of work that you need in order to be able to fulfill your work duties without posing extra stress on yourself.
Also, it will make your life easier when you want extra time to finish your work, or want help with heavy lifting. Most employers are only concerned with the productivity of their employees. As long as you are still able to complete your job to the best of your abilities, your employer wouldn’t mind offering you flexible timings and the option to work from home. Based on the severity of your arthritis and the kind of support your employer offers, working with arthritis can become easier.
A Word About Commuting With Arthritis
For many patients working with arthritis, daily commuting becomes a nightmare when their affected joints make it difficult to drive. Studies have found that commuting difficulty, a previously overlooked factor, is an important predictor of Rheumatoid Arthritis work disability, even in younger patients.
If your office is close-by and your arthritis is in its early stages, driving shorter distances may still be possible. But as joints in your knees, ankles, feet, wrists, and fingers start to deteriorate and you begin losing range of motion in these joints, it’s best to not drive to work.
What is worse is that public transportation, especially during busy office hours, can also be uncomfortable when you are suffering from pain, stiffness, inflammation, and mobility issues. It makes sense to take these considerations into mind when you discuss your work schedule with your employer and work team. Traveling in public transportation can be rather convenient during off-peak hours, which is where flexible work timings come into play. Starting work later in the morning can be particularly beneficial for arthritic patients. That’s because joints are often stiff, painful and inflamed in the morning after a night of rest but warm up and relax as you move around the house doing simple everyday chores.
In the end, how long you will be able to work with arthritis will depend on the severity of your medical condition. Even though you now have some physical and functional limitations, you can continue in your chosen career as long as you’re still effective and efficient at your job. Know that if your arthritis poses serious physical limitations, you are covered under the Americans With Disability Act. Familiarize yourself with the law and use it in your favor to get the right support at work.