Working with Arthritis

Arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders are the leading cause of work-related disability among persons 18-64 years of age. Does that mean you should start planning your retirement just because you have arthritis? Definitely not. With some careful planning, the right attitude and a little bit of luck you can have many productive years in the work force.

The benefits to being employed are numerous. Ranging from the obvious ones such as income and health benefits to the not so obvious sense of self esteem that comes from being productive. The social aspects are important also. Getting out of the house, being around other people, all these things play into your emotional well-being.

One of the first concerns that may crop up is whether or not to tell your employer and co-workers about your arthritis. The answer depends on your particular situation. If your arthritis is obvious then of course you are going to have to tell them. But if it isn’t so apparent you might not want them to know. You need to think long and hard about it. There is the chance that some hidden discrimination will occur. They may feel that you are unable to handle certain tasks and may over look you at promotion time. Or at the opposite end of the spectrum, you may get special treatment that anger your co-workers.

If you decide to tell them you should be aware of your rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed by congress in 1990. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and applies to the workplace. Your employer in most cases must provide equipment to enable you to preform your job. This includes special chairs, adaptive equipment, etc. Read The Americans with Disabilities Act in the Workplace to learn more about the ADA.

Having arthritis means you may need to change the way you do things, including many of the tasks you perform at work. Make changes to protect your joints. Use whatever adaptive equipment you find that helps. Talk to others with similar conditions doing the same basic job. Talk to your doctor, a couple of visits with an occupational therapist can really make a difference in how you do things.

You’ve done all you can to make your present job easier but it just isn’t going to work. That happens, actually it happens quite often. The job is just too much. Don’t feel like a failure if this happens. Look at it as a challenge. You can find another job you like that is easier on the joints.

It seems that we enter into the work force in a career we think is the best for our future, but not necessarily something we love. Then arthritis comes along and changes our capabilities, forcing us to re-evaluate our choices. It is a second chance. This time choose something you really WANT to do. Something you are passionate about. It may not be anything you ever pictured as a career, but you will be much happier. Happiness at work means less stress!

If you have difficulty finding a new career, there is help available. Contact the vocational rehabilitation department in your area. They can assist in retraining, job placement and provide counseling to help you deal with the emotional aspects of changing careers.

If you find that your arthritis is severe enough that it will prevent you from working at any job then it is time to look into Social Security Disability Insurance. Again, you must not look at it as failing. You are not a failure, you are empowering yourself by lessening mental and physical stress.