The Arthritis Newsletter

Spring 2014

Tips for Staying at Work and Maintaining Your Work Productivity

By Alison Hoens, Wendy Lum, Joyce Ma, Pam Montie, Karen Tsui


All of us want to feel productive and valued in what we contribute to this world.  Working can help us feel fulfilled, whether it is work, volunteering or artistic pursuits.


People living with inflammatory arthritis often need to stop working as a result of their condition. Others with arthritis may go to work despite being in pain or discomfort, which can often impact their productivity.  However, with a few adaptations, many people with arthritis can have a full and productive work life.


Here are some of suggestions from the members of the Patient Advisory Board of the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada and the research project “Making it Work”.


Activity Breaks

  • Avoid sitting or standing too long
    • try to change your position, even for a few minutes,  every 1/2 hour if possible
    • program a sound on your computer that reminds you to get up and move
    • if possible, try to vary your tasks, for example, don’t do all your filing at once and intersperse it throughout the day
    • try to stand for some of the time when you are talking on the phone
    • rather than sending an email to a colleague in the same office, occasionally walk to them and deliver the message in person
  • Take a short walk at lunch and/or walk before and after work for at least 10 minutes (e.g. park a little further away than usual or get off the bus 1 or 2 stops earlier)
  • Every hour try some of these exercises
    • simple stretches and range of motion exercises for your arms, legs, and neck (bend your neck up and down, bend sideways and turn your head to look over your shoulder)
    • ‘stealth exercises’ – e.g. drop a pen on the floor and pick it up, then reach for something on the top shelf
    • stand up and walk 30-40 steps every hour (walk to the washroom or just walk up and down the hallway)


In order to be at your optimum for work, don’t forget to use your usual ‘self management’ principles:

  • Always take the medications that your doctor or rheumatologist has prescribed as directed so that your disease is well controlled
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Plan your day ahead, prioritize important activities
  • Take time to do some things that you especially like to do
  • Regular exercise such as walking, gentle pool classes or swimming can help reduce pain
  • Wear comfortable shoes to walk to and from work and then you can change into your dress shoes while at work
  • Practice good sleep hygiene so you are well rested
  • Avoid digital devices (computers, TVs, phones) for an hour before bed and an hour after waking up


Rest Breaks

  • Schedule at least one 15-20 minute rest period during the time of the day that you usually feel fatigued
  • Put a reminder in your phone or day planner to relax
  • Find a private place at work for a yoga mat so you can fit in a two to five minutes rest on the floor and feel rejuvenated
  • Pace yourself  – spread difficult and stressful work throughout the day rather than trying to do it all at once



  • Where possible, ask to participate in meetings by teleconference (you may be able lie down while you participate)
  • If you need to participate in person at a meeting, and it lasts for more than 1 hour, share with the participants at the beginning of the meeting that you will occasionally be changing your position (standing, sitting, leaning forward etc)
  • If you work alone, schedule time for face-to-face meetings or calls and remain upright


Telephone Tips

  • Use a headset when you are talking on the phone
  • If possible, get up and walk around when you are on the phone


Keyboarding and Body Positioning at a Desk

  • If your hands are bothering you try voice recognition software such as ‘Dragon speech recognition software’ which uses speech to create and edit documents
  • Use an ergonomic keyboard and chair
  • Wear wrist supports for typing
  • Be aware of proper body mechanics to avoid unnecessary stress on joints
  • Avoid repetitive movements, take breaks or change tasks
  • Make sure the height and position of your chair, desk, computer, and phone are all adjusted properly for you (an occupational therapist (OT), physical therapist (PT) or ergonomic specialist can help with this)


Body Positioning for Lifting and Bending

  • Seek advice from your OT, PT or ergonomic specialist to determine specific needs and personal adaptations depending on the joints affected and the severity of disease
  • Use two hands to lift objects, or if you are having trouble with your hands, use your forearms.
  • Bring the weight as close to your body as possible before lifting
  • Keep your back in a neutral spine position, keeping your stomach in tight to support your back
  • Lift with your legs and buttocks and never lift while your back is in a rounded position, or twist while carrying a heavy weight


Mini Vacations

  • If possible, consider using some of your vacation hours so that you can take a half or a full day off work intermittently


Communications with Your Employer and Health Care Team

There are both provincial and federal laws in Canada that require employers to accommodate people with disabilities. Whether or not you can stay at work depends on the severity of your arthritis, the nature and demands of your jobs and the support of your employer. If your employer is supportive and you communicate your needs, you may be able to find solutions together to compensate for the difficulties you encounter. You can request job accommodations to adapt your work to your arthritis. People who seek accommodation are often better able to do their work and take fewer days off work.

  • Work with your employer regarding job duties, type of work, work schedules (i.e. work from home, part-time work, how the work is done, job share, flexible hours, start later in the day since mornings are often difficult)
  • Seek advice from your health-care professionals (i.e. doctor, physiotherapist, occupational therapist and/or vocational counsellor)


Early diagnosis and use of disease-modifying drugs (DMARDs) for the treatment of people with inflammatory arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) have provided monumental improvements in the quality of life for many people, enabling many to maintain full, active lives and stay employed.


We challenge you to take or send your friends and family members to a Shoppers Drug Mart to use the Shoppers Drug Mart Arthritis Screening tool or visit their website. Early diagnosis and treatment of arthritis can lead to better outcomes, reduced disability and even remission of the disease. Time to get going on that spring screening!


With early diagnosis and treatment and a supportive employer, people with arthritis can have full, active, purpose-filled lives. Make your work work….



  • Beaton DE, Tang K, Gignac MA, Lacaille D, et al. (2010). Reliability, validity, and responsiveness of five at-work productivity measures in patients with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. Arthritis Research and Therapy 62(1):28-37.
  • Lacaille D, White MA, Rogers PA, Backman CL, et al. (2008). A proof-of-concept study of the “Employment and Arthritis: Making It Work” program. Arthritis and Rheumatism 59(11):1647-55.


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