6 Ways To Keep Working With Arthritis
Arthritis is a chronic condition which causes pain, stiffness and inflammation in the joints, which can make everyday activities difficult and challenging.
Arthritis affects around 10 million people in the UK and is typically associated with older people, but it can affect people at any age. Living with arthritis can have a significant impact on your work life and you may need to make some adjustments to help you manage day to day tasks, but many people can and do continue to thrive in the workplace whilst living with arthritis.
You have the right to work and to receive support from your employer and others to help you keep working with arthritis. Read on for our six tips on ways to keep working when you have arthritis.
1. Know your legal rights and time off
If you have arthritis, you are protected by the Equality Act 2010, which means that your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your condition. They also have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to your work environment and tasks to help you do your job without disadvantage. Some examples of reasonable adjustments are:
Changing your working hours or patterns
Providing you with special equipment or software
Allowing you to work from home or remotely
Giving you extra breaks or rest periods
Offering you training or mentoring
You can also request flexible working arrangements, such as part-time, compressed hours, job sharing or career breaks. Flexible working can help you balance your work and personal life and give you space for relaxation and self care.
If you need time off because of your arthritis, you should follow your employer’s sickness policy and procedures. You may be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) or contractual sick pay (CSP) depending on your circumstances. You may also be eligible for other benefits or financial support, such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Universal Credit.
Your medical conditions are private, and your employers should not share details with anyone who is not relevant. It is illegal for your employer to discriminate against you based on your medical condition and it is illegal for them to refuse to make reasonable adjustments. If this happens, you should ask for legal advice or speak to organisations like Citizens Advice, ACAS or Versus Arthritis.
2. Speak to your employer about your arthritis and how they can support you
It can be really helpful to talk to your employer about your arthritis and how it affects you at work, so that you can get the most accurate support to help you manage your workload.
If you already have a job and develop arthritis whilst working there, you don’t have to disclose your new condition to your employer. It is usually a good idea to do so, however, so that you can discuss how best your employer can support you and what adjustments or flexibilities you may need to do the best job possible.
If you have arthritis and apply for a new job, you don’t have to tell your prospective employers during the interview process but you do if you are offered and accept the job. Whilst you don’t have to tell them, it may be helpful that they know all the relevant information about their candidates so they can make an informed decision and so you can ask any questions you may have to check if a particular job is right for you.
Your manager might not know a lot about arthritis (plus different people can have different experiences of the same condition), so it’s a good idea to let them know about your personal experience with arthritis and how it affects you. You can also discuss what adjustments or flexible working arrangements would help you do your job better and more comfortably.
You should try to have an open and honest dialogue with your employer, and keep them updated on any changes in your condition or needs. You can also ask for regular reviews or appraisals to monitor your progress and satisfaction at work.
3. Choose ergonomic options for your work equipment and environment
Ergonomics is the science of designing products and environments that fit the people who use them. Ergonomic work options can help you reduce strain and discomfort on your joints and muscles, and improve your posture so that you can avoid unnecessary aches and pains.
Some examples of ergonomic options are:
Chairs that support your back, neck and arms
Desks that are adjustable in height and angle
Keyboards that are designed to keep your hands and wrists aligned. This reduces pressure within the carpal tunnel and can help you avoid repetitive strain injury
Book holders or e-readers
Screens that are at eye level and glare-free
Headsets that free up your hands
Cushions, footrests or mats that provide extra comfort
Wheeled tea carts, utility carts, briefcases or suitcases can help you transport objects without unnecessary pressure.
You can ask your employer to provide you with ergonomic equipment or software. It’s worth highlighting to them the ways the Government supports this through their Access To Work scheme and this should apply whether you work from an office or from home. If you are self-employed any ergonomic equipment you buy for work purposes should be tax deductible, if in doubt you can call HMRC or your tax adviser for advice on this. You can also seek advice from an occupational therapist or ergonomist on how to choose and use ergonomic options for your work.
4.Switch things up and avoid repetitive motion
Repetitive movements, such as typing, clicking or performing the same physical actions over and over can cause repetitive strain injury which can exacerbate your arthritis pain. It’s a good idea to take frequent breaks, try to mix up your motion as much as possible, and practice stretching exercises involving the relevant muscles. Whether your job involves a lot of moving or staying in the same position, adopting a ‘neutral position’ can be really helpful for your joints.
Your neutral position is the position the human body naturally goes into in microgravity. For example, your knees' neutral position is slightly bent. Your wrists' neutral position is where your hand and forearm are in a straight line, and your neutral position when sitting is with your head straight rather than bent over. Try to be mindful of your posture and where your joints are, and if you feel discomfort try adjusting your position until it feels more comfortable.
5. Take regular breaks and move around
Taking regular breaks and moving around can help you reduce stiffness, improve circulation and prevent fatigue. It can also help you stay focused and alert, and avoid overworking or burning out. If you have a sedentary job, it’s also important to regularly sit up, move around, do some stretches and be mindful of your posture. The same goes for jobs which involve a lot of standing - make sure you’re taking regular breaks to sit down.
Some tips for taking regular breaks and moving around are:
Set an alarm or reminder to take a break every hour
Get up and walk around, stretch or do some gentle exercises
Do some deep breathing or mindfulness exercises
Drink water or have a healthy snack
Stand up to speak to a friend or make a drink
You can also use a standing desk or a balance board to alternate between sitting and standing, or a footstool or an exercise ball to keep your legs active while sitting. You should also try to avoid prolonged sitting or standing, and take frequent short breaks instead.
6. Seek emotional and social support
Living with arthritis can be challenging and stressful, and it can affect your emotional wellbeing. Fatigue, depression and stress can all cause physical as well as emotional pain, so it’s really important to find support and tools that can help you manage your feelings. Some tips for seeking emotional and social support are:
Talk to someone you trust about your feelings and concerns
Join a support group or an online community for people with arthritis
Attend a self-management course or a mindfulness workshop
Practice relaxation techniques or stress management skills
Take time for yourself and do things you enjoy
Join a meditation or gentle yoga class
Think about therapy or organisations like the Samaritans which can offer a non judgemental listening ear.
Arthritis can be a challenging condition to manage, especially when it affects your work life. However, there are multiple ways you can manage your symptoms and keep working and thriving with arthritis. Remember, you are not alone, and there are many resources and tools available to help you manage your arthritis at work. How do you manage your work life with your arthritis? Let us know on Facebook.