Manage Osteoarthritis in the Workplace

05 February 2019

When you hear someone talk about arthritis pain it's likely they are talking about osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, which afflicts around 30 million Americans.

This condition occurs when the cartilage in between the bones of a joint begins to wear down. It is most common in the hands, spine, knees and hips, and the condition itself can be quite painful. Approaches to manage osteoarthritis are important to help people who have the condition to maintain their highest level of function.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

As the soft, smooth cushion of the cartilage begins to wear away, the bones may rub on one another leading to pain, a stiffness of the joints, a grating sensation with movement and even tenderness when the joint is touched. The symptoms of osteoarthritis can be treated, but the cure to reverse the damage and restore the cartilage still eludes researchers. Until that time, we must manage osteoarthritis the best we know how.

Working with Osteoarthritis

According to the Arthritis Foundation, one of the most important ways to continue to be productive at work when you have osteoarthritis is by creating a work environment that is ergonomically suited to your job.

For example, in order to prevent the stiffness of the joints that occurs from staying in one position too long, the Arthritis Foundation recommends that you take one or two-minute "microbreaks" every 20 minutes to rest and stretch your joints. This includes taking a short walk around the office or resting your fingers after a long period of typing.

It's also especially important to position your body comfortably. Use a chair with lumbar support that fits your body. You should be able to put your feet fully on the ground. A height adjustable desk can be a valuable addition to ensure that your computer is in front of your face, and you don't have to incline or decline your neck to see the monitor.

A document reader that holds important papers at your eye level is another important addition to prevent neck strain and pain from osteoarthritis.

Flexible Scheduling

While this may not be an option for many workers, more and more people are able to take advantage of telecommuting or flexible scheduling with their employers. This may take the form of a complete home office inside your home, or coming in on an altered schedule for fewer hours a week.

The Arthritis Foundation offers great advice on how to broach this subject with your employer, and how to keep the conversation positive, and mutually beneficial.

Manage Osteoarthritis at Home

Osteoarthritis doesn't stop once you've clocked out. But doing one activity on your off-hours will make your working hours more bearable.

Mild exercise is an important activity for back pain management that can overcome some of the pain and stiffness of the spine that can occur with osteoarthritis. By strengthening the muscles that support the backbone, and increasing their flexibility, you can experience pain relief and increase endurance. Exercise also increases blood flow to the area, which can reduce inflammation.

When thinking about what exercises to do, consult your physician for a personal recommendation, but general guidelines suggest that you do a mixture of flexibility, aerobic and strength building exercises that are low-impact for your joints. Walking and swimming are favorites for people with osteoarthritis because they are effective and also easy on the joints.

If you are living with osteoarthritis, you are not alone: Ergonomic solutions and lifestyle changes can keep you with back pain management, both in and out of the office.