Handling arthritis can be difficult. People often think of arthritis as being an ailment associated with old age - but it can affect people of any age. In the UK, around 10 million people have arthritis and about 15,000 of them are young people.
It’s a common condition that causes joint inflammation, pain and discomfort. The two most common forms of arthritis are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
This is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, affecting around 8 million people. It normal develops in adults who are in their late 40s or older. It’s most common in women and people with a family history of it, but it can occur at any age as a result of an injury. It can also be associated with joint related conditions such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis.
The most commonly affected joints are:
In the UK, rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 400,000 people. It often starts when a person is between 40 and 50 years old. Women are three times more likely to be affected then men. The condition occurs when the body’s immune system targets affected joints, which leads to swelling.
Handling arthritis in the workplace
Arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders are major contributors to short term absence and are the second most commonly identified cause of long term absence for manual workers (37%), closely followed by chronic back pain (30%), (CBI, 2015).
Life expectancy has also increased which has added pressure to pensions, resulting in an increasingly ageing workforce. Older workers are inevitably more susceptible to work related arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders.
What symptoms should you look out for within your workforce?
- Complaints of joint pain, tenderness and stiffness
- Complaints of inflammation in and around joints
- Warm red skin over joints
- Difficulty or stiffness when employees haven’t moved for a while
- Consistent cracking of joints
- A limited range of movement
- Weakness and muscle wasting
If you do spot or hear complaints about any of the symptoms above, there are a number of steps you can take to help employees who suffer with arthritis or MSDs.
First of all, take a look at the risk factors and ask yourself if sufferers are undergoing any of the following activities:
- Repetitive and heavy lifting
- Bending and twisting
- Repeating an action frequently
- Sat in an uncomfortable working position
- Exerting too much force
- Exerting a force from a static position
- Working without breaks
- Adverse working conditions (e.g. too hot or cold)
- Psychosocial factors (e.g. high workloads, tight deadlines and lack of control).
Evidence from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) shows that employees who return to work within a year of their initial absence are most likely to sustain a successful return to work when interventions are made. A range of adjustments can be considered to accommodate a return to work and retention in the job.
Flexible shift patterns
Flexible shift patterns can help after diagnosis and early in the treatment plan by enabling employees to attend NHS health interventions and undertake exercise programmes.
Don’t be afraid to help educate employees with a series of health and safety posters, handouts or emails. Information on the communications could help employees self-refer and improve awareness of handling arthritis in the workplace. For example, you could educate employees about changes they can make to their health to help with arthritis, like taking turmeric supplements.
Jobs should be designed so that most people can carry them out. Movement is preferable to inactivity, but work overload should be avoided. The job should be fitted to the person, rather than the person to the job, and working conditions should always be adapted to the capacity of the worker.
Setting up a health and wellbeing programme will benefit workers and employers. A highly desirable benefit that helps keep staff motivated, reduces absenteeism and ultimately improves retention. A good scheme would include:
- Health Cash Plan – allows employees to claim back on everyday health care costs.
- Health Assessments – allows employees to give their body and mind a MOT.
- Healthy Eating – advice on dietary requirements can ensure sufferers are eating starchy foods and drinking plenty of water.
- Employee Assistance Programme – a perfect opportunity for the more reserved employees to discuss issues and personal matters.
- Cycle to work scheme – it’s no secret that cycling to work has plenty of health and wellbeing benefits.
- Gym scheme – offers the opportunity for employees to act upon the professional advice regarding physical exercise during lunch or after working hours at a reduced cost
Arthritis can significantly affect both the lives of individuals and the productivity or workplaces and handling arthritis can be a real challenge. There is strong evidence that the implementation of wellbeing schemes, health management policies, the use of health assessment tools and support for your staff to use the local NHS services will help employers and employees to work together to a mutual benefit.
Help & Support
It’s always important to seek professional medical advice if you feel like you’re suffering from any of the symptoms mentioned in this article. For more information on handling arthritis please visit: arthritiscare.org.uk/living-with-arthritis
You can also use the NHS website to find arthritis services in your area.