Coping With Arthritis at Work
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Is Your Arthritis Affecting Your Work Day?

Did you know working can make arthritis symptoms flare up and contribute to joint damage? Depending on the severity of your disease, you may need to modify your duties or change careers in order to prevent further damage from being done.

Certain professions involve activities that stress joints due to excess pressure, as well as repetitive or jarring activities that may result in inflammation, pain and injury to your joints and surrounding tissues. If your disease is severe, you may need to ask for special accommodations to avoid these activities or modify your work schedule.

Severe arthritis may even make it impossible for you to maintain your current job. Though it is a tough decision to make, you should always put your health first. Here are a few ways of coping with your arthritis at work.

Take Advantage of Professional Resources

Talk with your physician about a medication regimen that may ease discomfort and improve flexibility. Obtaining referrals for physical therapy, vocational rehabilitation, or occupational therapy services may be beneficial for you.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists can teach you how to perform exercises that will enhance your endurance and protect your joints. They can also recommend exercises for you to perform at home to keep building your strength and energy.

Physical therapy can also enable you to work smarter. For example, if you have a job that requires lifting, a physical therapist can show you proper techniques for using your large leg muscles to bear most of the load.

This relieves wear and tear on smaller bones, muscles and connective tissues that are commonly affected by arthritis. In this example, learning to lift by using your leg muscles efficiently reduces stress, potential pain, and damage to your spine, a common site of arthritic changes.

Physical therapists can also prescribe and perform treatments that decrease pain and increase flexibility. For example, if you have arthritis in your fingers, you may benefit from immersing them in warm paraffin.

If back pain is keeping you awake at night and preventing you from being able to work due to lack of sleep, a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit may be prescribed.

If you are overweight, a physical therapist can also suggest exercises to enhance weight loss, thereby relieving stress on your joints and decreasing pain.

Vocational Rehabilitation

Contact your nearest state department of vocational rehabilitation to learn about services they provide. Don’t wait until you are in dire need of these services, as it may take a long time to obtain support and develop an action plan.

Vocational rehabilitation counselors are very knowledgeable about disability laws and rights, so they can help make workplaces more accessible. For example, if you use a wheelchair, they may be able to help gain funding for a ramp in some circumstances.

If you are reentering the workforce or need to change careers, a vocational rehabilitation specialist will provide you with expert guidance and assistance.

Occupational Therapy

You may reap great rewards from a one-time consultation with an occupational therapist. Ongoing services may be prescribed if needed.

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Occupational therapists are particularly skilled at helping individuals who have difficulty performing fine motor activities. This means action of the small joints, such a those in the hands.

Most jobs require you use your hands most of the day. Occupational therapists can assess tasks and make recommendations to make performing these duties easier.

You may be able to work with greater ease and protect your joints by using adaptive equipment. Occupational therapists are very knowledgeable about tools to make performing your job easier.

For example, you may need splints for your hands or a back support device. Occupational therapists create individualized health care plans based on your needs depending on your health and the type of work you perform.

Take Steps to Protect Your Spine Every Day

Arthritis commonly manifests in the spine because it is subject to so much wear and tear.

One of the first things I learned many years ago when I was a first-year nursing student was the importance of taking good care of my body. One of my instructors always told us, “Take care of your back — your career depends on it.”

As a nurse, I do a great deal of lifting, reaching, walking and pulling. I, like other health care providers, learned very quickly what my instructor meant. Here are some ways you too can protect your spine:

  • Ask for help when lifting heavy items
  • Take your time
  • Stand with your legs apart and knees flexed
  • Make smooth movements
  • Bend at your knees to pick up items from the floor
  • If your job requires you to assist others to walk or transfer, use a gait belt
  • Maintain good posture (there are devices available to assist with this)
  • Hold heavy items close to your body
  • Avoid lifting over your head whenever possible
  • Wear proper footwear
  • Wipe up spills immediately so you will not slip and fall
  • Use mechanical devices to help to transfer heavy loads
  • If you are being asked to perform potentially hazardous tasks not within the realm of your job description, notify your supervisor
  • Join with your co-workers to promote a safe workplace

Protect Your Joints at Work

If you have a career that requires sitting for long periods, there are steps you can take to keep you more comfortable, prevent debility, and increase your general level of wellness:

  • Change your position frequently
  • Use ergonomic keyboards and other tools
  • Consider purchasing a wrist support if you work at a keyboard
  • Make sure your chair is comfortable and at the right height
  • Avoid slouching
  • Take frequent breaks and walk around

Living and working with arthritis is challenging, but it is possible. Be open to new ideas, stay informed, and use tools to help protect your joints. By taking excellent care of yourself outside of work, you will be able to perform well at your job.