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Arthritis Health Center

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Arthritis at Work: Ergonomics Can Help

WebMD Feature

The day-to-day demands of work can pose many challenges when you have arthritis. That’s true whether you work at a desk job or a job that requires lifting and bending. Fortunately, a few simple principles can help most people get through the day without undue pain. Ergonomically designed chairs, desks, and specific equipment can also help take the strain off painful joints. Here are eight tips from arthritis experts.

1. Take Breaks From Repetitive Motions

Whether you work at a computer or on a construction site, chances are your job requires some repetitive motions. “Repetitive movements can cause repetitive stress injuries, which can exacerbate arthritis pain,” says Andrew Lui, PT, assistant clinical professor of physical therapy and rehabilitation at the University of California, San Francisco, where he counsels people with arthritis and other joint pain. “Whenever possible, take frequent breaks if you have to do work that involves repetitive movements."

2. Use Good Arthritis Body Mechanics

Whether you do a lot of moving at work or sit or stand in one position, your joints are less likely to act up if you keep them in what physical therapists call a neutral position. For knees, for example, the neutral position is slightly bent -- the position they are in when you sit in a chair with your feet extended forward a little.

For wrists, neutral position places your hand and forearm in a straight line, so the nerves passing through your wrist aren’t pinched. The neutral position for your neck when you’re working at a desk is with your head held straight. “Whatever kind of work you do, pay attention to the position your body is in,” says Lui. “Try to eliminate unnecessary strain by finding the most comfortable position.”

3. Stay Mobile With Osteoarthritis

Staying in any one position for too long also puts stress on your joints. “As much as possible, try to change positions frequently during your working day,” says Kimberly Topp, PhD, professor and chair of the department of physical therapy and rehabilitation services at UC-San Francisco.

If you’re on your feet a lot at work, take frequent breaks to sit. Another strategy that may help: placing one foot on a footstool while you’re standing, in order to change your knee position and relieve strain on your back. (Be sure to alternate between your right and left foot.) If your job involves working with your hands, such as typing or carpentry, alternate tasks frequently so that you change your body position. If your job involves sitting, take breaks to stand up, stretch, and walk around. Desk chairs that allow you to adjust positions can also help prevent unnecessary strain on joints.

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