Arthritis using a computer mouse

21 Feb 2023

Supporting Employees with Arthritis

What is arthritis?

Arthritis affects around 10 million people in the UK and although commonly associated with people over 40, it can start at any age. This means that a lot of people of working age are living with arthritis. As an employer, it’s useful to understand how arthritis can affect people in the workplace, to help make sure that any team member living with the condition is properly supported.

Arthritis is an umbrella term that describes several different conditions that can cause pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints.

The two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

  1. Osteoarthritis begins with the roughening of the cartilage that lines our joints, leading to difficulties with pain and stiffness. It is most prevalent in the hips, knees, hands, and spine. Current remedies focus on exercise and lifestyle to help with the management of symptoms.
  2. Rheumatoid is a type of inflammatory arthritis and is considered an auto-immune disease. Initially presenting itself in the hands and feet, common symptoms can include changes in joint shape, size and appearance and tiredness or fatigue. The first line of treatment is often medication to assist with the side effects.


Supporting arthritis at work

It is recommended that people living with arthritis stay in work as there is clear evidence that working can be good for health, wellbeing and recovery from illness.

The unpredictable, fluctuating nature of musculoskeletal symptoms can present challenges in the workplace. For instance, a construction worker may have difficulty planning their working week if they are not sure how far they will be able to walk the following day without pausing to relieve the pain or whether they will be able to lift their tools.

These stressors can lead to mental health problems such as increased anxiety, feeling inadequate and low mood.
It is important that individuals who suffer with long-term conditions like arthritis are provided with the correct support and guidance by their employers, with regards to their working role.

Positive adjustments may include:

  • Creating an open and supportive environment;
  • Ensuring employees know where to seek help – this might include HR, Occupational Health or an EAP;
  • Assess the work environment to ensure employees are given any equipment they may need to work safely and comfortably;
  • Adjustments to the working day:
    • getting up and moving around during long meetings;
    • going for a walk during their breaks;
    • working from home or working flexible hours;
    • managing their workload to reduce stress;
    • attending medical appointments during the workday;
    • wearing special footwear.

Ensuring employees with long-term conditions like arthritis have a suitable working environment, can improve their resilience and encourage them to overcome hurdles that they may face in everyday life.