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How can I manage my osteoarthritis at work?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

To manage your osteoarthritis (OA) at work, make sure your boss and coworkers know you have a joint problem that might need some special accommodations. In most cases, the changes can be made simply and at low or no cost.

If your job involves a lot of sitting, for instance, you might need to get up and move around for a few minutes every half hour so your arthritic knee doesn't lock up. That's a free change, and if everyone else in the office did it too, there would probably be fewer repetitive motion injuries and more smiles. You might also be able to arrange a different work schedule to make your commute easier.

Good posture at work, and everywhere else, helps prevent or ease the symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA) by keeping your body well-aligned and preventing extra stress on your joints. At work, good posture can help you avoid a repetitive motion disorders, such as bursitis, tendinitis, or carpal tunnel syndrome, all of which could eventually lead to OA. When you stand up straight, you protect the joints in your neck, back, hips and knees. When you slouch, you put extra stress on those same joints, which can eventually cause OA. If you already have OA, poor posture could stress your painful joints and make your symptoms worse.

If your OA is turning into a bigger problem or if your boss isn't supportive, try talking to the people in the human resources department about what reasonable accommodations your employer should make.

Osteoarthritis (OA) and the pain and stiffness it causes in the joints can be a limitation at work, especially if your job requires you to stand or walk a lot. Certain jobs require repeating the same motions such as kneeling, lifting, bending or typing over and over. Repetitive motion can cause repetitive stress injuries to the joints of the hands, spine, hips and knees by wearing away cartilage that supports and cushions them, causing bones to rub against each other. This rubbing motion may cause osteoarthritis.

Good posture—and not just at work—is vital when you have osteoarthritis. Sitting and standing up straight will protect the joints in your knees, hips, back and neck. To practice good posture, pretend there’s a string coming out of the top of your head that someone is pulling on to lengthen your spine and keep your shoulders back instead of slumped.

Physical therapy, splints, braces and pain relievers can make it easier and more comfortable for you to get around on the job. If all else fails, surgery may be necessary.

By law, your employer is required to make reasonable accommodations to help enable you to continue doing your job, or to transfer you to another job. Reasonable accommodations may include working from home, working a flexible schedule, and purchasing or installing assistive devices. An occupational therapist can work with your employer to discuss reasonable accommodations that may be necessary for you.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Here are some tips that can help you manage your osteoarthritis at work:

  • See if you can adjust your hours to accommodate your condition.
  • Make sure you see a doctor and let him or her know how osteoarthritis affects your work.
  • Talk about your health condition with your boss if you feel improvements in your work environment or schedule could help you do a better job. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees from discrimination or termination because of their disability. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations. So employees with osteoarthritis are entitled to make reasonable requests to make their work environment accommodating.
  • Go to work as healthy as possible; living a healthy lifestyle outside of work factors into this.
  • Organize yourself at work. An organized workspace with items close at hand can minimize repetitive motions. Prioritizing your day can also be a helpful organizing way to work around times you know you're more sore or uncomfortable. Avoid repetitive motions, or vary the motions if possible.
  • Remember to take breaks.
  • Stretch and move while at work so you're not stiff after sitting or standing for long periods of time.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.