The truth is, having RA affects every part of your life. And that's especially true when it comes to the place you may spend the majority of your waking hours: at work. There's a lot you can do to get your workspace setup to minimize the impact RA has on your job. Developing new habits and arranging your workspace to fit your needs -- by applying the principles of ergonomics -- can have a big effect on your productivity and how you feel.
It may surprise you how much some changes can help. A 2004 study of 600 workers with rheumatoid arthritis found that those whose workspaces had been modified to make them more comfortable were 60% less likely to miss work and report a work-related disability.
Being in pain can be the most difficult part of living with rheumatoid arthritis. While medicines help, they don't always make the pain go away completely. In fact, most people with rheumatoid arthritis are faced with frequent or ongoing pain that affects their outlook on life and can lead to depression and anger.
While you may not be able to avoid pain, you can take control of the situation with strategies that keep pain in its place.
Not sure how to start? An ergonomic evaluation can help improve the layout of your work area. You can do it yourself by using checklists available online through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Or, depending on your employer, you may be able to ask for a professional evaluation. Your occupational or physical therapist can also help you learn how to do tasks on the job with less stress to your joints.
Here are some other tips for RA-friendly working.
RA and Work: Pay Attention to Posture
"Stand up straight," Mom used to say -- and she was right. Whether you sit or stand on the job, good posture is especially important with rheumatoid arthritis. Poor posture not only puts stress on joints; it can actually waste body energy and increase fatigue, even when you're just sitting.
For good posture, try this: Imagine a string from the ceiling to the top of your head, and then lift your head, neck, and shoulders upward, keeping your shoulders relaxed. Avoid locking your knees and tuck in your pelvis. If you've ever tried walking with a book balanced on your head, you get the idea.
Positions and Tasks: Mix Them Up
Sitting at your desk and doing the same task over and over are especially hard on your body when you have RA. Sitting at a computer monitor for long periods, for example, can make anyone's joints stiff and sore. Give yourself little breaks throughout the day. Stretch at your desk, go for a brisk walk at lunchtime, and take the long way to the fax machine or restroom.
Try to do different tasks during the day to give your joints a rest. If your job involves repetitive movement, such as turning bolts on machinery or typing, try to break it up with other tasks. Switch back and forth between light and heavy tasks.
Change positions when sitting, and alternate standing and sitting when possible.
On Your Feet: Create a Good Standing Workspace
If you stand most of the day, try alternating putting one foot on a step, low stool, or book so that it is a little higher than the other. This helps keep your pelvis well aligned. Ditch your high heels and go for shoes with good cushioning and support -- and keep heels to an inch high or less. Special inserts in your shoes (orthotics) may also help.
Organize your work area to make it easier on your joints, so that you don't have to lift, reach, or carry too much. If you work in different areas throughout the day, consider using an apron or tool belt to carry the items you need.