How to Handle Rheumatoid Arthritis at Work
Your rheumatoid arthritis (RA) doesn't have to stand in the way of a satisfying career. The right office set-up, helpful gadgets and tools, and support from your manager are some of the key ingredients to success on the job.
"I was diagnosed with RA when I was 26, and I have always worked full-time," says Kelli Schandel, a 43-year-old senior geoscience technologist and mother of two in Denver. She says medication, some tweaks at the office, and a good relationship with her boss have made all the difference.
Set Up Your Workspace
You spend a lot of time at work, so you want your desk and chair arranged so there's less tension and strain on your joints. The goal is to organize things so the furniture supports your body in a relaxed, neutral position.
"It takes a bit of setup in the beginning, but it's worth it in the long run," says Mary Ann Wilmarth, a physical therapist at Back2Back Physical Therapy in Andover, MA.
You'll need a chair that supports your lower back. Make sure it has arm rests you can move so that you can put your forearms on them with your elbows bent at 90 degrees. Adjust the armrests so that they allow you to get as close to the desk as you need.
A wheeled, swivel chair cuts down on the amount of twisting and reaching that you do during the day. Make sure the seat isn't too deep. When your knees are bent and your feet are flat on the floor, there should be about an inch between the backs of your knees and the edge of the seat.
And, yes, your feet should be flat on the floor. It reduces strain on your joints. If they don't reach the floor, use a short footrest.
"Make sure the keyboard and mouse are at the same height," says Karen Jacobs, EdD, a professor of occupational therapy at Boston University.
Position the mouse as close to the keyboard as possible. Make sure your wrists, forearms, and elbows are in the same plane. Don't work with bent wrists.
Your eyes should be level with the top of a regular-sized computer monitor. An oversized monitor might sit a little higher.
"Make a fist, stretch out your arm, and that's how far your monitor screen should be," Jacobs says.