Arthritis In The Workplace
A common myth of arthritis is that it is a disease of the elderly. The reality is that arthritis is one of the most common disorders among Canadians of working age and one of the most disabling chronic conditions, often making a wide range of everyday activities difficult to perform. It is a disease that affects people of all ages, ethnicity and gender. Of the more than 4.6 million Canadians affected, about 60 per cent are of working age (under 65). It is estimated that 7.5 million — or one in five — Canadian adults will be living with arthritis by 2036. What’s more, the impact of arthritis on the Canadian economy in health-care costs and lost productivity is estimated to be $33 billion annually.
People living with arthritis can be affected at work regardless of their jobs — from those who work in offices or manufacturing plants, to people who work outdoors or in retail. Arthritis is an episodically disabling disease, meaning the same person may experience a wide variation in symptoms, such as pain and fatigue, at different times, including long periods with no symptoms or disability.
Anxiety and frustration are common emotions that accompany the disease. Even if you are confident that the demands of your job can be managed, you might worry about changes in the future and whether you can remain healthy and productive. Or perhaps you feel you have to compensate for your disease by working harder and “going the extra mile.” According to several studies of arthritis in the workplace, many Canadians with arthritis sometimes give up breaks to complete tasks and take vacation time to rest at home in order to continue working, in addition to using their workplace sick days.
Fortunately, taking action now can make a difference. Recent major advances in treatment and medication can slow the progression of the disease so that people with arthritis can still do what they want and need to, including work.
The information contained here will help you understand and manage your disease as well as protect your joints at work. If joint issues are limiting your ability to work, then you should ask for help sooner rather than later. It’s a common feeling to want to battle on, but it’s important that you get the right advice and support early on so that you can do your job better and more comfortably.
The Importance of Joint Health at Work
In anatomy, the term “joint” refers to where two bones attach for the purpose of allowing the body to move. Without joints we would be immobile and unable to perform even ordinary activities like shaking our head, lifting a pencil or pushing a grocery cart. Movement is something we take for granted, until we start having difficulties with it. For most of us, work is an important part of life — so it’s helpful to know how you can protect your joints while working.
Pain, fatigue, stiffness and limited joint movement are the major symptoms of arthritis and can interfere with everyday activities. However, it’s possible to make changes or adjustments in your routine and develop strategies or ways that will allow for a more productive workday.
Solutions to Assist You at Work
Recent research of working Canadians with arthritis revealed that many want their arthritis to remain private, while others worry about how or when they should share this information with their employer and/or co-workers. The decision to share this information is ultimately up to you.
The good news is: many workplaces offer benefits, policies or practices that may be helpful to people with arthritis. These include extended health benefits where an employer covers health-care costs not covered by provincial government plans, such as some medications and rehabilitation (e.g., physical therapy). Workplace policies may also include flexible work scheduling (e.g., “flextime”) or occasional work-from-home arrangements, modifying work tasks or activities, changes to work stations (e.g., a more accommodating chair or computer keyboard) and short-term leaves of absence.
You may be able to learn about your company’s policies without having to speak directly to your supervisor. Written information is generally available or, if your company has a human resources department, you can speak with someone privately. If you’re comfortable speaking with your supervisor, he or she may also be able to help modify work tasks or scheduling to help you better manage your situation.
An effective treatment plan can also improve your work situation. Together, you and your health-care provider(s) can create a plan that includes both your health-care provider’s treatment recommendations and your own self-management strategies. View our Joint Matters at Work Checklists online (arthritis.ca/publications) and use it as a conversation starter with your treatment team members.
A healthy lifestyle is essential to good joint health. This includes eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight and getting adequate exercise.
NOTE: For exercise tips, our exercise videos.
Active Joint Protection
Pay attention to your body’s signals and take regular breaks so that you can stretch. Whether you sit, stand or perform heavy physical tasks at work, it helps to do some stretching and other movements throughout your workday to protect your joints. Did you know you’re “feeding” your joints when you move them? Cartilage depends on joint movement to absorb nutrients and remove waste. Cartilage, ligaments and bone also becomes stronger and more resilient with regular exercise. Physical activity and exercise actually help keep joints healthy.
When you have arthritis or persistent joint pain, always consult your health-care provider before starting any new physical activity and/or exercise routine. If you have joint pain, select non-impact exercises or exercises that won’t cause further discomfort to your already painful joints.
NOTE: For more exercise tips, check out the Arthritis & Physical Activity guide. For exercises videos, visit arthritis.ca/videos.
Simple workplace exercises
Being physically active is an essential part of managing arthritis. The Arthritis Society has a collection of Top 10 Exercises [PDF]
that can be done at work.
Using arthritis friendly “Ease-of-Use” products
The Arthritis Society is proud to be able to recognize manufacturers that have designed products that are easy to use for people living with arthritis. Products with the “Ease-of-Use” logo have received an independent and favourable review. Find arthritis friendly Ease-of-Use products
available in Canada.