The Arthritis Newsletter

Winter 2014

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Work With It

By Alison Hoens


In which the author provides practical advice for juggling work duties and rheumatoid arthritis.


It isn’t easy but it is possible.

Fatigue, pain, stiffness and limited joint movement associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can make holding down a job a big challenge. This can be particularly difficult if you have not shared with your employer and colleagues that you are living with RA. Fortunately there are many ways to make it easier to succeed at staying at and enjoying your job. Here are some ideas to try:


  1. Think beyond the moment. Recognize that you have a limited amount of energy and each task will take some of that energy. Choose the tasks that are most important. This concept is nicely described by the ‘spoon theory’ at http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/. Identify the things that are most important to you. Do these first and whatever energy remains can be used for the things that are less important to you.
  2. Alternate tough tasks with easier tasks. Rather than getting sore and tired by doing all the hard work at one time, rotate some of the tasks with easier work.
  3. Take short breaks – walk around the block once in the morning and once in the afternoon. If possible, lie down for a brief rest (perhaps bring a yoga mat or foamie into the office to roll out when you need it).
  4. Stand up for your health. During lengthy meetings try to stand up occasionally. Your colleagues may be inspired to do so too. To avoid embarrassment or misunderstandings, let people know that you may be doing so.
  5. Walk and talk. Rather than sitting through another meeting, invite your colleague to ‘walk and talk’ – have your meeting while walking. This can be good for your joints and your brain and for your colleague too. Moving can stimulate creativity.
  6. Vary your work activities. Alternate filing, typing, phoning etc. rather than completing all of one task and then all of another. The body loves variety and gets ‘cranky’ with repetition.
  7. Get the right equipment. If your hands hurt, consider using a headset for your phone and/or voice recognition software (e.g. Dragon Professionally speaking). Ask for a workplace ergonomic assessment to set up your desk, computer and chair so that it ‘fits’ you well. If your employer doesn’t have this available, check out this link: http://www.wikihow.com/Set-Up-an-Ergonomically-Correct-Workstation


Although there are some challenges when working and living with RA, it may provide unexpected opportunities. Planning your work around your symptoms can provide moments to ‘stop and smell the roses’ – a chance to see and appreciate the small joys that are often missed in the race to complete the pile of tasks.

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