OA: Protect Your Joints at Work

Medically Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on October 15, 2020

If you have osteoarthritis, you know how sore joints can impact your daily life. That’s why WebMD turned to experts for valuable tips on how to minimize the harm that repetitive motions and other workplace strains can place on joints.

In the Office

“Unfortunately, a lot of us are sitting at our computers most of the time,” says Rebecca Manno, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of the faculty of its Arthritis Center. That may mean less strain on the knees, but a lot more on the neck, back, wrists, and hands.

If you have an office job, you probably spend at least 7 hours a day on most days sitting at your desk. “That makes your work space incredibly important to your joint health,” says Manno. Set up your desk, chair, and computer with your OA in mind:

  • When sitting at your desk, your feet should be flat on the floor and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Your lower back should have good support. “If you can’t get an adjustable chair, this may mean you need to buy a footstool and/or get a lumbar support pillow,” says Jyotsna Supnekar, OTR/L, CHT, NDT, senior occupational therapist in the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center.
  • If you work on a computer, the top of the screen should be at eye level. This prevents you from straining your neck.
  • If you talk on the phone frequently, use an earpiece so that you aren’t constantly twisting your neck.
  • Use a forearm/wrist support when you type. “I ask my patients which hand they use their mouse with, and it’s always the hand in which their arthritis is worse,” says Manno. “You can develop tendonitis from gripping the mouse too hard and too long. A support can help with that.” Periodic use of a wrist splint can also help if your computer use leads to severe joint pain.

If you are developing severe OA in your wrists or fingers, and your job requires a lot of typing, Manno suggests exploring the use of voice recognition software. “It can take some time to get used to these programs and make them work for you, but if you do a lot of typing it could be worth it,” she says. “Unfortunately, with OA, the more that you use your joints, the more likely it is to be uncomfortable.”

In Active Jobs

For people who have more physically active jobs, the strain on their joints may be different, but it can be just as taxing. Try these tips:

  • If you lift things frequently, be sure to use safe lifting skills. Bend at the knees, not the waist, and use aid devices and levers if possible. Transport items on wheels whenever you can.
  • If you have to move heavy objects, find ways to push rather than pull them, recommends Supnekar. “Pushing uses the muscles of the legs, chest, and back, while pulling uses the small muscles and joints of the hands, wrists, and fingers. Always try to use your larger joints more than your smaller joints.”
  • If you can, mix up periods of heavy activity that puts more strain on your joints with less intense work, giving the joints a rest.

For Everyone

Stretch. No matter what your job is, you probably do certain activities over and over again, or get into the same sitting or standing position for long periods of time. To protect your joints, break that cycle.

“Set an alarm on your watch, phone, or computer to remind you to take a break and stretch every 40 minutes or so,” says Manno. If you spend most of your time sitting, stand up, stretch, and walk around for a few minutes. If you spend most of your time standing, stretch and then take a few minutes to sit.

Use the Right Tool. “When you have OA in your fingers or hands, you shouldn’t be doing any tight pinching,” says Supnekar. That means selecting the right tool for the job: like a felt-tip pen instead of a ball point, a properly sharpened knife or pair of scissors for cutting, and tools for tasks like kitchen work and gardening with padded handles. When opening bags or boxes, use scissors or a cutting device, rather than yanking at them with your hands.

Time Your Meds. If you have certain times of the day when you know you’ll be doing particularly repetitive or joint-straining work, take your pain relievers according to that schedule. “Think about what your day is like and when you’re most uncomfortable,” says Manno. “If you know you’ll be writing reports for four hours in front of the computer, take your medication a bit before you’re about to start that work.”

Show Sources


Rebecca Manno, MD, assistant professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. 

Jyotsna Supnekar, OTR/L, CHT, NDT, senior occupational therapist, Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, Baltimore, MD. 

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