RA in the Workplace continued...
Are you well versed on your company benefits? "Visit your human resources department to find out the benefits available to you," Smith says. Knowing you will be covered by disability insurance in the event you have to stop working can alleviate some of your stress.
Have you asked for help? Communicate your physical and emotional needs to your supervisors and co-workers. "It may be as simple as asking for a stool if you have trouble standing for long periods of time," Smith says.
Is your workspace ergonomically friendly? Ask your employer for an ergonomic evaluation, so working with rheumatoid arthritis can be more comfortable. Improvements may include a chair with lower back support or repositioning your monitor and keyboard. Aim for the following positions:
- Hands and forearms neutral or slightly angled downward
- Feet flat on the floor or on a small riser
- Thighs parallel to the ground
- Eyes straight ahead when looking at the computer screen (not left or right)
Can you work from home, full- or part-time? Feasibility of at-home work depends on the nature of your position. But more employers are offering flexible schedules these days.
Do you have a support group? "People working with RA need advocates," says Smith. The right organization can provide a range of support. Services may include talk therapy, exercise suggestions, and help communicating with employers. Organizations that can help or at least point you in the right direction include the Arthritis Foundation and Creaky Joints.org. Or ask your rheumatologist for support groups in your area.
Do you get up and move often? "Sitting for more than 30 to 60 minutes can cause stiffness," Sweiss says. So get up and move around as much as possible. If you can't get up, move your feet, toes, ankles, wrists, and hands periodically.
Can you change jobs? "You may be able to move into a less physically demanding job within the same department or company," Smith says. "For example, you may go from a field position to more of a desk job," he says.
If you can't transition to another position smoothly, you may be able to train for a career that will allow you to continue working with RA. "Every state has free vocational rehabilitation programs. These programs offer counseling to help people with RA get the training or additional education they need for a more sedentary job," Smith says.
Do you exercise regularly? If you feel better in general, working with RA will be easier. Good exercise classes for RA include gentle yoga and yoga for people with disabilities. Warm-water exercise programs are also great for sore joints. To find classes like this in your area, check out the Arthritis Foundation web site or ask your rheumatologist.
Are you planning ahead? If you've just been diagnosed, it can't hurt to plan for what may happen down the road. "Sign up for short-term disability if your company offers it," Smith says. If your company doesn't provide disability benefits, consider changing jobs. "You will need those benefits should rheumatoid arthritis and employment become challenging in the future," he says.