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Arthritis and employment

As arthritis, especially RA, affects many people in the prime of their lives, one of the major concerns of patients is whether they can lead a normal life and have a career like other people. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:

Can I work if I have arthritis?

Yes, you can work if you have your disease under control. Learn to manage your routine by making full use of the times when you are not having a flare. Slow your pace or delegate work to subordinates or colleagues when you are having a flare.

How will having arthritis affect my work?

The kind of job you are doing must correspond with how much you can cope with. It helps to be realistic about what you can or cannot do. Ask yourself:

  • How much standing, walking and sitting are you comfortable doing?  
  • How much lifting and reaching can you do?
  • What is your fatigue level?
  • Can you hold objects or open car doors easily?
  • Are you able to perform repetitive hand movements without aggravating your arthritis?
  • Consider your abilities on both "good" and "bad" days in making these judgments.

Should I tell my employer if I have arthritis?

You may want to find out first whether your company has a commitment towards helping people with disabilities. If not, you may need to be careful when bringing up the subject to your employer as you don’t want to seen as soliciting for sympathy. Consider these factors:

1)      Can your disability be seen?

2)      Would you need special arrangements in order to do your job?

3)      Would your disease affect your chances for further developments such as promotions?

4)      Would you need to hide your condition from everyone in the company?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions, you may need to reassess your suitability for your job. Sometimes, letting your employers know about your disease may help, as they will then place you in a position where you can cope.

More importantly is when and how you tell your employer. Choosing a suitable time and method of informing him will lower your chances of jeopardising your career prospects.

Will I have trouble with working relationships?

It is important to educate your fellow colleagues about arthritis so that they do not misunderstand your fatigue and other conditions. As arthritis is often misunderstood to be just ‘aches and pains’, they may think you are exaggerating so as to do less work. They may feel resentful about any special treatment you are getting or constantly having to stand in for the work that you did not complete.

Rather than pushing your body beyond its limits to prove yourself, let them know that you are not deliberately being lazy and the limitations of your capabilities. Gaining the understanding of your colleagues and employers will set you on the right career path, even with arthritis.

My arthritis makes me so tired. How can I cope?

Learn to work smart by adapting your job to your body’s mechanism. Maintaining a positive attitude would help you find ways to handle your fatigue. Here are some tips:

  • Have enough rest and sleep.
  • Avoid excessive stress which may aggravate a flare
  • Arrange your workspace to minimise lifting, reaching, carrying, holding or walking to conserve energy
  • Avoid repetitive movements for long periods of time- vary your activities.
  • Protect your joints from further pain, strain and inflammation by wearing splints or using protective devices
  • Minimise traveling as it can be energy-consuming.
  • Take frequent, short breaks every 20 or 30 minutes
  • Change positions often to avoid straining any particular joint

Should I even be working, since I have arthritis?

Being gainfully employed gives one a sense of wellbeing and increases confidence. It also stops you from being overly obsessed about your pain and expands your social network so that you have friends to share your problems. 

Whether to work is a personal choice, which you will need to make on your own. It will also depend on how severe is your arthritis and whether you can cope with your job. Discuss your concerns with your rheumatologist or physiotherapist so that they can help you find solutions.

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