Managing rheumatoid arthritis at work can be one of the most challenging aspects of having the chronic condition. The inflammatory disease1 can cause you to have really painful and swollen joints that affect how you dress, use the computer (if that’s required for your job), or even get out of bed some days.
Although finding the right medication may help you alleviate most of your symptoms, making additional lifestyle changes can help you feel more comfortable with managing rheumatoid arthritis at work. Below, we speak with several people with rheumatoid arthritis about how they get through the workday more comfortably. Hopefully, some of their advice can help you at work too.
1. Move as much as you are comfortably able to.
Kenyana Ejiogu, 23, has learned a lot about managing her condition since being diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when she was nine. As a public relations professional, Ejiogu spends a lot of time sitting in front of the computer, and she says moving makes her pain and stiffness better. Now that she works from home, Ejiogu notices she stays sedentary for long periods of time because she’s not walking around her office or over to a coworker’s desk.
“Honestly, when I’m at home, I’m kind of doing the same thing every day. It’s really easy to stay in one place,” Ejiogu tells SELF. If you work from home and find yourself staying in one spot a lot, Ejiogu recommends moving to different areas throughout your home, if you are able to. Otherwise, you may want to set reminders to get up and walk around the house or outside throughout the day.
Ejiogu also practices yoga or does bicycle movements with her legs in the morning and says starting her day with light activity helps her move more during the day. “It actually motivates me to be more active, like I’ll probably work out those days, walk my dog longer, and I won’t have my joints bother me as much,” she says.
2. Consider wearing wrist guards.
Lisa Andrews, 54, a registered dietitian who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her 20s, says she gets flare-ups in her wrists and ankles. She also spends a lot of time on her computer for work and says typing can be really unbearable during a flare. Andrews buys compression splints at her local drugstore, which she says feels like a hug around her wrist. This extra support allows her to move her hands more comfortably while working at the computer. “It’s an adaptive device, and I can use it at any time,” she tells SELF. (The Copper Compression Wrist Brace is one highly rated option on Amazon, $24)
3. Reduce stress as much as possible.
For some people, stress2 can trigger rheumatoid arthritis flares. Zahara Jade, 42, was diagnosed with both Behcet’s disease, a disorder that causes blood vessel inflammation, and rheumatoid arthritis when she was 20. Over the years, she says she gets more flares during stressful times.
“I make sure I have the time and space for myself to rest when I need to,” Jade tells SELF. Jade is a somatic therapist and uses the computer to see patients virtually. “When I’m having a bad flare, I have a lot of trouble with basic tasks,” she says. “Typing and using my computer and phone, both necessary for my job, have to take a backseat.”
To help reduce stress, Jade meditates every morning using the Headspace app. Additionally, she uses the Panda Planner (Amazon, $31) to organize and reflect on her day. “It’s like a to-do journal, but it has affirmations and sections for wins and how you will improve tomorrow,” Jade says. “It helps me kind of navigate not just what I’m doing for the day, but also my overall well-being.”
Although not everyone can cut back on their work hours, Jade says it’s helpful to set work boundaries when she’s not feeling well. “I now know when I’m pushing too hard. I did that for way too many years and got way too sick for far too long.”
4. Wear comfortable shoes.
Paige Leonard, 26, who was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at eight, regularly stands for work presentations. Working in the interior design industry, Leonard says her work wardrobe is more formal and she frequently wears heels. But standing for hours in heels during a flare-up can be really excruciating. “It’s just murder on my feet,” Leonard tells SELF.
Leonard also has on-site checks for her design projects, which can require a lot of standing and walking. Leonard now keeps comfortable shoes at her desk and changes into sneakers for site visits and flats for her presentations. Sometimes, Leonard wears a dressier outfit with her sneakers if she’s worried about not appearing formal enough. For years, she dealt with the pain, so changing shoes is a big step for her.
“For so long I have tried to deny having [rheumatoid arthritis],” she says. “I wanted to pretend I didn’t have it, so I would wear uncomfortable shoes or be in pain for the majority of the day.”
5. Speak to your boss about accommodations if you feel comfortable doing so.
There may be times that your condition makes it really hard to work, either because of the physical or mental effects. If you feel comfortable talking to your boss, it may be helpful to explain that having rheumatoid arthritis means you might need to take a quick walk break, come in late for work one morning, or wear sneakers in a formal work setting.
“Being able to switch shoes sounds like a very simple thing, but it’s taken me a very long to even speak up and say that,” Leonard says.
Everyone’s work situation is different, but if your boss is supportive, communicating why you need hourly walk breaks, for instance, may help them understand that you’re doing what you need to do to feel your best at work.
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