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Arthritis on the job

Arthritis can create challenges at work. Good treatment, communication and planning can help.

When you have arthritis, it can affect all aspects of your life, including your job.

But even though arthritis may make your job more difficult, staying in the workforce can have physical, emotional and financial benefits.

Early treatment, good planning and consistent communication can help you stay on the job.

Treat it right away

Whether arthritis affects one joint or many, the pain and stiffness it causes can get in the way of work. If arthritis is affecting your work, you should talk to a doctor.

Early treatment and learning how to protect your joints can significantly improve your ability to perform in a job physically.

Medications, exercise, education, joint protection strategies, muscle strengthening and pain management can all help keep you mobile, active and at work for as long as possible.

Physical and occupational therapies can help you use your body and your work area to your best advantage.

Make a plan

Adjust your career plan to account for arthritis. First, take a realistic look at your physical abilities. The Arthritis Foundation recommends asking yourself these questions:

  • How much standing, sitting and walking are you comfortable doing?
  • How much lifting and reaching can you do?
  • How easily do you get fatigued?
  • Can you hold objects or open doors easily?
  • Can you perform repetitive hand movements without irritating your joints?

If your symptoms vary a lot from one day to the next, consider these questions on both good and bad days.

Also consider modifications that could help your performance, such as:

  • A workspace that is set up to require less lifting, reaching, carrying, holding or walking.
  • A schedule of frequent breaks to prevent tiring.
  • Spreading out demanding tasks throughout the day.
  • Splints to help protect a joint or joints.

Your doctor, career counselor, physical therapist or occupational therapist can help you realistically assess your long-term career options.

Talk about it

Many people are reluctant to talk to their boss or co-workers about arthritis. But if your symptoms are affecting your work and you need accommodations to continue working, it's time for a talk.

Communication is key to helping your employer and co-workers understand how arthritis affects you. Arthritis doesn't always have outward signs, so even if you're exhausted and hurting all over, people may not know what you're going through unless you tell them.

Before you talk to your supervisor, research changes or devices that can help you do your job.

Also read up on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which makes it illegal for most employers to discriminate against you because of arthritis. The law specifies what kinds of accommodations employers have to make for employees with disabilities. For more information, visit the ADA website, ada.gov.

Once you've done research, the Arthritis Foundation recommends that you schedule a meeting with your supervisor at a time when neither of you is under pressure. Explain how arthritis affects your work and suggest changes that can help.

In some cases, asking your doctor or another health professional to talk to your employer can also help.

Keep it under control

No matter what kind of work you do or what kind of arthritis you have, disease management is key.

Try to maintain a positive attitude, keep up with medical care and get enough rest.

If you eventually find that you can't work anymore, you may be able to get disability benefits from the Social Security Administration, a private or group medical plan, or both.

reviewed 11/15/2019

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