Millions of people experience chronic pain that interferes with everyday life. If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, sciatica or any other type of nerve, joint or muscle-related pain, seemingly straightforward tasks such as opening a door or making a cup of coffee can be incredibly challenging. Throw the pressure of going to work into the mix and the situation becomes even more complicated.
Desk jobs can be particularly demanding. Sitting upright behind a desk for long stretches of time, repetitively typing, writing and clicking away on a computer mouse – these are all things that can wreak havoc on our conditions. During flare-ups, our ability to perform certain tasks is impaired, and as stress and anxiety levels increase, our overall wellbeing is impacted, creating a vicious circle.
So, when it comes to arthritis and work, what are the statistics? Research from the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) revealed that although there has been a notable progression in the workplace over the last decade – nearly two thirds (63%) of people with RA were in employment in 2017 compared to 55% in 2007 – more than half would feel unable to continue work if their job became more physically or emotionally demanding.
Working participants in the survey expressed that having “time off when feeling unwell or experiencing a flare-up” is the biggest barrier that they currently face at work. This was closely followed by a “lack of support from an employer or line manager” and “lack of understanding from colleagues”. Sadly, short of half (41.5%) have had to change jobs since the onset of their illness and 15% were forced to stop working altogether.
Clearly, more support is required to help those of us living with chronic pain reach our full potential in the workplace. Nonetheless, there are positives to embrace. The market is teeming with useful products, adaptive equipment and ergonomic aids, which we’ve outlined below, along with some useful tips to help you get through the day in the office.
Poor, unsupported posture can affect arthritis back pain. The right desk chair goes a long way. The Independent recently published a round-up of the best ergonomic office chairs for 2022, and FlexiSpot’s FlexiChair BackSupport Office Chair BS8 was celebrated for its value.
With excellent ergonomic design, this chair is well-suited for people who work for long periods. Users can conveniently adjust the chair to any height within a certain range. It is w-shaped with elastic foam rubber to reduce pressure on your buttocks and the swing function offers more comfort and flexibility, as well as helping with stiff posture. Other key features include foldable armrests and an adjustment knob for the tightness of the backrest
An ergonomic keyboard has the potential to make your desk job a lot easier. Take the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop, which puts less strain on your wrists and forearms. The natural arc keyboard layout follows the curve of your fingertips for a more natural way of typing and the reverse tilt design positions the keyboard at the correct angle for a neutral wrist position. It also comes with a mouse designed for maximum wrist comfort.
Inspired by founder Michael Omotosho’s grandma’s struggles with arthritis, Plugull is designed for anyone who finds pulling out stiff and fiddly plugs from sockets challenging. This innovative piece of adaptive equipment consists of a thin, fully recyclable plastic sheet with the 3 classic pinholes, allowing it to fit snug onto plugs. However, as part of the design, the top of Plugull extends up into the finger loop, making it perfect for dexterity, limited grip and arthritis affecting the wrists, hands and fingers.
Sustained discomfort throughout the day can often make a desk job feel unbearable. Here at To Better Days, we’ve created a range of active patches that provide topical, targeted pain relief in as little as 30 minutes.
Our natural, easy-to-use Big Joint Patches (ideal for the back, thighs, lumbar, arms and legs) and Small Joint Patches (ideal for the fingers or wrists, neck and ankles) contain a patented combination of vitamin D and dextrose to support the health of joints, muscles and nerves. Not sure which size is best for you? Give our Trial Pack a go, which features a range of sizes at a discounted rate!
There are various ergonomic mice to discover, which can help reduce muscle strain, decrease wrist pressure and improve posture while you’re at work. Among the top-rated options is Logitech’s MX Vertical. Its unique 57° vertical angle is said to reduce pressure on your wrist while your thumb is positioned comfortably on the thumb rest. According to Logitech, the natural handshake position reduces muscular strain by 10% compared to a traditional non-vertical mouse.
Create an ergonomic workstation: Your workspace needs to be tailored to your individual needs. It could be worth making some small adjustments, such as ensuring your chair is set at the right height and is a comfortable distance from your desk; your computer monitor is in the right place; and your main tools are within reach. If using the phone a lot presents limitations, consider switching to a headset!
As you can see, there are some fantastic products out there to discover. Aside from the ones we’ve mentioned in our favourite 5, there are arthritis-friendly pen grips, phone and tablet holders, support pillows, compression gloves, plus much, much more.
Try to avoid repetitive motions by staying active and moving around during the day. Going for a walk and stretching may help. It could be a good idea to set an alarm to remind you to change things up and perform some simple stretches every few hours.
The NRAS survey cited earlier also revealed that, unfortunately, only half of working RA sufferers were offered adjustments such as flexible working, reduced hours or special equipment in their last job. However, that’s not to say there aren’t supportive employers out there. If you’re experiencing arthritis desk job-related pain, working from home a couple of days a week might be a good option. Versus Arthritis has provided some great advice on this.
If you live in the UK and have a disability, the Equality Act 2010 is a law that protects you from discrimination. Understanding your rights is incredibly important, and there is also a wide range of disability-related financial support available you may benefit from.
Chronic pain can hold us back in the workplace, however, there are ways to counteract the common struggles we face as part of a desk job. We hope you find these products and tips for arthritis useful. And remember, if you have any thoughts on the topic or are looking for additional information, insights and support relating to chronic pain, visit our Facebook group, Together For Better Days. We are better together!