The Arthritis Newsletter

Spring 2014

Having a Job, Keeping a Job

By Gerry Sheanh


There are countless adjustments a person must make as a result of being diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis. Changes in diet, sleep patterns, exercise, rehabilitation routines and recreational activities often must occur in those affected by the sudden presence of pain, stiffness and reduced stamina. While all of these are challenges in themselves, a huge concern for most newly diagnosed arthritis patients is: how are they going to continue functioning in their jobs when the degree of difficulty is amped up because of the limitations imposed by disease?


While you will probably experience some degree of permanent diminished capacity, so too will you have difficult times along with periods when you are feeing well enough to do most of what you could do before.


If you have a job that requires strength, flexibility and dexterity and that puts repetitive stress on your affected joints, you might not be able to continue at that job indefinitely, but for most jobs, you should be able to continue with appropriate adaptations. This may require a change in job duties, but it may not.


Arthritis and work are not necessarily incompatible. Today’s employers, for the most part, are willing to make adjustments for a worker’s limitations, whether they be permanent and severe, or mild and episodic.


Staying at work is more than simply therapeutic, it is an absolute necessity for anyone other than those born to substantial wealth and privilege, but it is more than that. Many people derive meaning and identity from their workplaces. Workmates are often like an extended family, and there is a personal connection with both the job and the people we work with. This may be because work fulfills more than an economic need; it also fills a need for trust, sharing and a sense of belonging.


When the onset of inflammatory arthritis occurs, and there is a chance that workplace meaning and relationships may be compromised, it can be a serious emotional and psychological blow. The good news is that there are resources now for helping most arthritis patients manage their condition effectively enough to remain employed.


Dr. Diane Lacaille and her research team at the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada are in the evaluative stages of a study entitled, Arthritis and Employment: Making it Work. This project addresses the challenges of staying at work by offering information and techniques for managing arthritis while at work.


The initial stage of this study consisted of four components:


  1. a self-learning manual that assisted participants in understanding what resources exist for self-managment
  2. an ergonomic assessment from an occupational therapist
  3. an assessment from a vocational rehabilitation counsellor
  4. a series of group learning sessions.


This program was pilot tested and the results were promising. People who made workplace adaptations were able to maintain their workplace productivity, and continued to work.


Because attendance at the in-person sessions proved an obstacle to full participation, the team made a decision to convert the program to an on-line product. All of the educational materials were adapted to an online program, and high quality video conferencing was provided to conduct the online group meetings.


Currently, this online program is being evaluated in a randomized controlled trial to test its effectiveness at helping people stay employed. Results are due sometime in 2015 or 2016 at the earliest with availability of the program to the general public at some point after that. If the results confirm the effectiveness of the program, the program will go a long way in helping people with arthritis remain employed, productive and motivated to continue working.


We live in exciting times for arthritis research, and the work of Dr. Lacaille and her team fills a much-needed role in the realm of arthritis self-management and employment. Thanks to this work, coupled with increased awareness of the capabilities of employees with arthritis, more of us will be able to continue working with varying degrees of adaptations and adjustments, providing a win-win situation for both employers and employees alike.


To find out more about this project, please see the Making It Work research study page.


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