Feel Your Best on the Job With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Struggling to keep up with job demands due to the aches and pains of RA? These strategies will help you balance your career and your condition.

Jean Weiss

There’s no doubt rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can cause pain on the job and make some of your workdays tougher than usual. But take heart! A study in Arthritis Care & Research found that although arthritis pain caused periodic difficulties at work, the problems didn’t make folks less productive or cause them to miss work more often. In fact, the biggest problems were with specific tasks—like working with their hands or lifting and carrying—as well as standing for long periods. And those are problems you can do something about!

To help you find smart workplace solutions, we asked for advice from lead study author Monique Gignac, PhD, an arthritis researcher and associate professor at the University of Toronto. Here are her expert on-the-job tips:

If you sit all day...
Think 90-degree angles. This is the key to eliminating back, neck and shoulder strain, says Dr. Gignac. If you work at a computer, here’s what to do with your:

  • Monitor: Keep your chin at a 90-degree angle to your neck when you look at the screen. The top of your screen should be just below eye level, so you’re looking straight ahead, not up or down. If needed, use a book or two to raise your monitor.
  • Chair: Adjust the armrests so your forearms and elbows are at 90-degree angles. Likewise, adjust the height so your knees and legs are at 90-degree angles.
  • Feet: Keep them flat on the floor to maintain the 90-degree angle at your knees. If this is difficult or causes strain, use a footrest; a small cardboard box will do the trick, too.

Do a posture check. Slouching can strain your muscles, sap your energy and cause fatigue. An easy way to straighten up: Picture a string attached to the top of your head, pulling you up so your head and torso are aligned and eyes are straight ahead. 

Fidget! Take a break every 20 minutes or so to stand up or move in your chair. Shake your arms, bounce your legs, flex your wrists and ankles—anything to keep your muscles loose and joints lubricated. Extending each leg and pointing and flexing your feet can keep your knees and ankles from stiffening.
Another tip: Set the alarm on your computer or smartphone as a reminder that it’s time to take a “fidget” break. 

April 2013