Physically demanding jobs may pose particular challenges and obstacles for people with arthritis or related conditions, such as neck, shoulder and back pain.
Although many jobs are desk-based, a lot of workers carry out manual or physical activities as part of their work, for example:
- lifting weights
- climbing ladders
- pushing/pulling objects
- doing tasks when bending, kneeling or squatting
- doing tasks with repetitive actions.
Health and safety legislation requires your employer to provide you with the necessary advice, training, clothing and equipment to minimise the risk to your health from any tasks you are required to perform. For example, there are legal limits on the amount of weight any worker can be expected to lift without mechanical assistance. If an employer fails to follow these rules, they can be prosecuted.
If you're finding any physical aspects of your work difficult because of your arthritis or related condition, it's important you discuss this with somebody at your workplace. This could be your line manager or it could be someone in human resources if you feel more comfortable talking to them. Once you have told them about your health issues, they are obliged to take them seriously and keep them confidential in your workplace. The Equality Act requires that you are treated fairly and that you are offered 'reasonable adjustments' so that you can remain at work whatever your health problem.
In whatever job you do, the fitter and healthier you are, the better you'll be able to do your job and cope with any physical aspects of it. Having a healthy diet and lifestyle, and exercising regularly, will help you manage your condition and improve your ability to do your job well.
Reduce the risk of injury
There will also be important steps you can take at work to reduce the chances of your joints becoming painful or injured.
Do tasks properly
- Make sure that you do any physical tasks correctly. Employers are responsible for your health and safety at work, and so they must have written procedures for how to do physical or repetitive tasks properly and they should provide you with training to help you learn the correct technique for such tasks. Make sure to carry out tasks such as lifting or moving heavy objects properly as this will reduce any undue strain on your joints.
- If you're unsure of the correct technique for a particular task, ask your manager.
- Don't try to lift or move something that is too heavy for you. Ask for help if you need it.
Use appropriate equipment
- Make sure that you have the right equipment you need for the work you're doing and that it's of a good standard and maintained properly.
- Do you need any protective gear or clothing? In particular, make sure you have good footwear. If your employer provides footwear or clothing and it's uncomfortable for your joints, talk to your manager.
Keep good posture
- Make sure you always have good posture. Whether you work standing up or sitting down, don't slouch; keep your chin up; keep your head aligned with your body; and keep your shoulders relaxed. Find out more about what is good posture. The Alexander technique and yoga can help with posture and body alignment. Pilates can improve core strength which can then help you maintain a good posture.
- Try to avoid working in a cramped or awkward position.
Break tasks up
If you do have tasks to carry out which require heavy physical work or repetitive actions, problems can arise if you keep doing potentially harmful actions over and over again without a break or change in duties. Can you take breaks? Can you mix them up with some lighter tasks?
If you ever feel aches or pains when doing a task, take note. This could be an indication that you're doing the task incorrectly. Altering the position you're working in might help. You could also talk to your manager to try to find out why a particular task may be causing you pain.
Don't keep doing a particular task if it's causing you pain.
It's important not to rush physically demanding tasks, as this is when you are more likely to hurt yourself. Taking your time, taking care about what you are doing and making sure that you do these tasks correctly will greatly help you.
Try to avoid staying in the same position for too long. Take regular micro-breaks, where you stop what you are doing and stretch, walk or wiggle around to loosen up and get the blood flowing properly again. It might be that you get quiet times in your shift, and if so, it would be great to make the best use of this time to stretch, walk around and limber up.
Going for a brisk walk of at least 20 minutes every day can really get the blood flowing, which can help to ease aches and pains, and keep your muscle and joints healthy.
Walking before your shift can act as a natural warm-up to get your body ready for the physical demands of your job; and a walk after your shift can act as a warm-down to ease any aches and pains.