By Sophia Moss
Living with arthritis can be painful at the best of times. But working with arthritis, especially in the modern manner of work can make matters even worse. So how do you make your working life easier when living with arthritis? David Vaux, registered osteopath, therapies manager and exercise project lead at Arthritis Action spoke to us to offer some top tips for Working with Arthritis.
Ask for an ergonomic assessment
If you have a desk-based job, it’s important to make sure all of your equipment is set up in a way that’s comfortable and offers flexibility of movement. Most middle-to-large size companies should offer an ergonomic assessment where you can discuss what accessories could make your working life easier.
“You can get little mini desktop adjustable desks now which go on top of your desk so you can raise up your PC and lower it down,” says David, “Using those, you can turn any desk into a standing, adjustable desk which I recommend people do because it gives you an excuse to alternate your working position. They cost about £120 and they're great.”
Footrests, ergonomic chairs for people with spinal pain, ergonomic keyboards for people with hand mobility issues, ergonomic mice and wrist cushions can also be helpful depending on the area of your body that is particularly affected by arthritis.
Find excuses to move around the office
Sending emails to people who are sitting in the same room is a pretty common part of modern life, but getting out of that habit can give you an excuse to move around during your working day.
“It’s hard to distinguish between pain from your arthritis and pain from your muscles, joints and ligaments,” says David, “it's a bit of a vicious circle. A lot of people with arthritis are frightened of moving because it has the potential to give you pain, but you will then potentially have more pain because you've shortened all the ligaments and tendons around the joints by not moving. I would always err on the side of activity and find excuses to get up.”
Ideally, you should not spend more than an hour sitting in one position. In addition to physically getting up and talking to your colleagues instead of sending an instant message, you can also use your office chair to mobilise yourself during simple stretching exercises.
“If you've got a seat with wheels, you can use that to support yourself while standing behind it and gently stretching out your lower back. You can also take a small tennis ball into the office with you, put it in the small of your back and use it to very gently release muscle tension if you've got problems in the spine,” says David.
Take the work out of the office
Who says you have to be in the office to get work done? Conducting meetings in a green space may be a little unorthodox, but it can be really beneficial for your physical and mental well being if your work culture allows for it.
“I'm quite known for walking meetings,” says David, “we'll go out, walk around St James's Park and talk about work projects as we go. It's much more productive in my experience than sitting in a boardroom.”
“It has obvious benefits for the muscular system because you're getting the blood moving to the muscles,” he continues, “but on a neurological level you're changing your environment, you're seeing something green and you're in a natural setting which everyone knows has a benefit to us as human beings, so the level of pain arguably is going to be less.”
Don’t forget the hands
Typing for eight hours a day can really take a toll on your hands, so you should get into the habit of taking care of them. “The hands are often neglected because people don't associate them with having muscles, ligaments and tendons,” says David, “ but the hands are made up of joints, bones, cartridge et cetera.”
“If you are affected with mobility exercises with the hands, gently massage the more fleshy parts of the thumb very gently with your other thumb,” he continues, “squeeze your hands together, relax them and stretch them out. You don't want to have your hands in a position where you're static.”
Productivity is important, but it’s okay to take breaks to give your hands (or any other part of your body) a rest. “Take little breaks, mobilise your hands, stretch out, and try to find ways of varying your working position,” says David, “there are mouse options that you can use if you have arthritis of the hand, which can really help. There are also keyboards which can be adapted specifically for mobility issues in the hands, so it's always worth looking around.”
Do some gentle exercise in the evenings
What you do outside of work can have a big impact on your quality of life. Exercise doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym or jogging around the park: it can be something as simple as going for a walk, joining a choir or attending an evening class.
“What you want to do is find something that has a social element to it in the community,” says David, “it can be something like a choir, a walking group, there are groups in the UK that offer outdoor rambling and there are lots of health walks in the community. There's a very nice project called Green Gym where you work on local community outdoor projects, do light gardening and rejuvenate old grounds which were previously overgrown. It doesn't have to be very physical, but as long as there's a social element and you're getting out of the house, that's a good thing.”
“If you've got arthritis and you've got painful arthritis, then it's the nervous system which decides how much pain you're feeling,” he continues, “if we do something which enhances our general lives, then the pain has the potential to decrease. Anything which gives you enjoyment is a good thing for painful arthritis.”
If you have any questions or concerns, speak to an osteopath, personal trainer or health care professional for more advice.