How to Manage Rheumatoid Arthritis at Work

Can’t seem to manage rheumatoid arthritis on the job? Don’t despair! These tips will help you keep up with job demands.

Barbara Burgower Hordern

Hitting the road
But what about simply getting to work when you have arthritis? Susan Warner, a 51-year-old public relations and marketing executive for a nonprofit rehabilitation center in suburban Minneapolis, was diagnosed with RA at age 4. She uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. She takes public transit to work, since most buses and some taxis in her area have wheelchair lifts. Even so, she prefers paratransit, an ADA-mandated transportation service often used by senior citizens and people with disabilities. “Paratransit is a dial-a-ride, door-to-door service,” she explains. “It costs me $4 each way, to and from work. The regular bus is 75 cents, but paratransit is still far cheaper than a taxi.”

People in areas without public transit may need to drive their own cars. Kelly Rouba, 30, author of Juvenile Arthritis: The Ultimate Teen Guide (The Scarecrow Press, 2009), was diagnosed at age 2 and also uses a wheelchair. She drives a modified van to her job in New Jersey.

All kinds of modifications can be made to a car or van, from hand controls to modified steering wheels. And your state’s vocational rehabilitation division may help pay for some or all of those modifications. Contact your state office or the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (call 866-672-9466 or email to find a car-modifying specialist in your area.

Many cars offer arthritis-friendly features as standard equipment; other features on this list can be added at the factory or retrofit after delivery:

  • Adjustable lumbar support
  • Adjustable steering wheel
  • Automatic 911 system to summon help
  • Electronic power steering
  • Heated seats
  • Keyless remote
  • Parallel-parking guidance
  • Push-button car starter
  • Rearview cameras to make backing up simpler and safer
  • Remote door openers
  • Remote ignition
  • Running boards
  • Seatbelt extenders
  • Voice-activated car-navigation systems

Tip: Be sure to have everything you need in your car, from assistive devices to emergency meds and water. You might also find that a beaded seat cushion—available in auto-supply stores and online—makes it easier to slide in and out of the car. And, if you have to drive long distances, plan to stop and stretch every hour. 

Taking to the air
Sara Nash, 31, is a Baltimore-based freelancer and grant writer for an arts organization. Her job requires her to travel often. What’s helped her is learning to plan ahead. On every business trip, Sara takes enough RA medication to last a little longer than she plans to be gone. She also goes prepared with whatever she may need should she get a cold—since such an illness can cause RA flare-ups.

When flying, Sara knows to wear comfortable clothes, pressure socks (“They look silly, but they work,” she says), and shoes she can easily slip on and off. She also brings a neck pillow, earplugs and a sleep mask.

April 2013