Working When You Have Arthritis

What you need to know to keep your career moving forward.

By Jennifer Cuthbertson

Even if you have a job that you love, every job comes with a unique set of challenges — long hours, demanding bosses, tedious tasks. When you live with arthritis, you can add pain, swollen joints and fatigue to the list.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of adults with arthritis are younger than 65 years old. That means many people with arthritis are still in the workforce and have to manage both their arthritis and their careers.

The Impact of Arthritis
“So much of what we do on the job is based on hand function. If your hands don’t function properly, that’s a problem,” says Arthur Kavanaugh, MD, in the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy, and Immunology at University of California, San Diego.

Simple job duties like typing on a keyboard, gripping a pen, holding the phone to your ear or standing for a period of time can become major hurdles when your joints are stiff or hurt.

Every person with arthritis is different. Some have mild symptoms that have little impact on their careers. Others can barely make it through the workday — or get to work at all.

Repeated absences and reduced productivity can prevent you from moving up the corporate ladder, force you to change jobs, or make it necessary to take early retirement. And showing up when you feel bad can make you less productive (a situation called presenteeism). Still, you don’t have to let your condition derail your career.

“The statistics about being able to work aren’t great,” says Karen Jacobs, clinical professor and program director of the online post-professional doctorate in occupational therapy at Boston University. “But the good news for someone with arthritis is that, with motivation and support, you should be able to stay on the job.”

Manage Your Symptoms
One key to success in the workplace is getting and keeping your arthritis under control. Make sure you take your medications on schedule and stick with your self-care routine. Talk with your doctor about any symptoms you experience at work. The more your doctor knows, the more she can do to help you be successful.

Good disease control can reduce both absenteeism and presenteeism. One study in The Journal of Rheumatology found that starting drug treatment within the first three months after diagnosis helped people with rheumatoid arthritis stay productive at work. Good symptom management can also prevent you from having to take an early retirement, according to a study in Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology.

Ask for Accommodations
If you are having difficulty fulfilling your duties at work despite your best efforts to manage your disease, it might be time to ask for workplace accommodations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities. Reasonable accommodation can include things such as making the workplace accessible, providing ergonomic workstation equipment, modifying schedules, allowing leave and reassigning you to a vacant job. Employers do not have to provide any accommodation that would pose an undue hardship on the company.

“Each situation is approached on a case-by-case basis,” says Linda Batiste, principal consultant for the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). “If you need an accommodation, the first step is to let your employer know. If you’re having a problem, but you’re not sure what accommodation will help, your employer is supposed to work with you to try to come up with a solution.”

If you’re not sure how to approach your employer, check out other Arthritis Foundation resources and tips. Also visit the Job Accommodation Network website, which offers ideas on accommodation options. Consider joining the Arthritis Foundation Online Community, where you can get advice from people living with arthritis who are successfully navigating the workforce

Employers can help their employees who have arthritis as well as their organization with free information and resources from the Arthritis Foundation. Learn more at Arthritis@Work.


Batiste, Linda. Personal Communication; principal consultant for the Job Accommodation Network.
Boot CRL, et al. One-year Predictors of Presenteeism in Workers with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Disease-related Factors and Characteristics of General Health and Work

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Martikainen JA, et al. Longterm Work Productivity Costs Due to Absenteeism and Permanent Work Disability in Patients with Early Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Nationwide Register Study of 7831 Patients

Tiippana-Kinnunen T, et al. Work disability in Finnish patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a 15-year follow-up.

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