Arthritis and the Workforce

More and more American workers are dealing with the pain of arthritis as they work.  According to a recent report, about 50 million adults have been diagnosed with this potentially debilitating disorder, making it the most common cause of disability in the US.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics show almost one-third of arthritis sufferers, which is a chronic disorder that involves inflammation of a joint, experience a variety of on-the-job limitations.

Workers with arthritis often have to deal with symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and fatigue.  However, experts say employers can provide a variety of accommodations to make things a bit easier for sufferers.

Types and Their Effects

The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.  Osteoarthritis can show up with either age or after an injury and usually affects the knees, fingers, and hips.  Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease that can affect bones and organs.  It may also include fatigue and even fever.  a 2015 study from a well-known pharmaceutical company found that workers with rheumatoid arthritis are 30 percent more likely to miss work than those without the disorder.

Recent CDC research found that among adults diagnosed with arthritis, 14 million have trouble stooping, bending, or kneeling.  11 million are limited in walking one-quarter mile, and 8 million have trouble climbing stairs.

Workforce Issue

As you can imagine, arthritis can affect workers in a variety of occupations, including farming,  construction workers, carpet layers, law enforcement officers, and administrative assistants.  A number of activities can also contribute or even worsen the symptoms.  For example, such activities include the following:

  • sitting or standing in awkward postures
  • repetitive motion
  • prolonged bending, kneeling, or reaching
  • working in extreme temperatures
  • use of vibrating tools, such as jackhammers or dental drills

Helping Workers with Arthritis

Employers can provide many accommodations for workers with arthritis.  Most of the accommodations can be both inexpensive and readily available.  For example, a social worker who has arthritis in her hands was having trouble note-taking and handling papers.  His or her employer could provide a book holder, a page turner and writing aids.  They could also have the opportunity to read the reports to other workers, who can then type or write it.

The CDC also offers the following ways employers can assist workers with arthritis and other chronic conditions:

  • Provide a fitness facility. Physical activity can help ease arthritis symptoms and improve mental health.
  • Display nutritional information about food in the cafeteria and vending machines.
  • Fund or provide discounts for use of exercise facilities (onsite or offsite).
  • Display signs encouraging use of stairs.
  • Offer physical activity programs.
  • Supply or fund fitness assessments, counseling and physical activity recommendations.