Occupational hazard

| Melissa Leavitt

Dealing with psoriatic arthritis (PsA) on the job can feel like getting stuck with that annoying coworker who just won’t leave you alone. No matter what kind of work you do, PsA can prevent you from feeling energized and productive. Sitting at a computer with swollen fingers and a sore back can wear you out, while fatigue and stiff joints make spending all day on your feet an endurance test. 

But just because you have PsA doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful at work. Awareness of the way PsA can impact your job is expanding, and so is the availability of resources and support to help you through your workday. 

Several recent studies have analyzed how much PsA can affect someone in the workplace. Findings suggest that even if you don't call in sick, PsA can still cut down on what you’re able to accomplish. 

Dr. William Tillett, a rheumatologist at the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases in Bath, England, and colleagues published the results of a study in the August 2014 Journal of Rheumatology that asked people with PsA to measure their productivity loss during the previous week. The researchers found the overall rate of productivity loss to be about 46 percent. 

Another study published in June 2014 in the journal Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology reported that about 35 percent of people with PsA felt that their disease had limited their work productivity, and about 14 percent reported that PsA led them to work fewer hours than they wanted to. 

Coping with PsA can sometimes place roadblocks on your career path, restricting your ability to pursue your dream job. A 2015 survey by the National Psoriasis Foundation found that 12 percent of respondents said they had turned down a promotion because of their PsA, and 21 percent said they had to leave their jobs. 

The support you need to get the job done 

The good news is that resources are available to help people with PsA have full, productive careers. One of those resources is your doctor, who can work with you to find a treatment that keeps PsA offline during your workday. 

Tillett and his colleagues followed their 2014 study with a study examining the effects of various treatments on the work productivity of people with PsA. They found that those who started a biologic known as a tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) inhibitor saw a dramatic improvement in their productivity. 

Productivity “improved by 30 percent over six months,” Tillett said. “It’s really quick.” This rapid improvement occurred no matter how long someone had been living with PsA. 

Another resource may be your boss. Telling your supervisor about your PsA sounds intimidating. But employers can help increase the productivity of people with PsA by accommodating their particular needs, according to the authors of the June 2014 Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology article. 

For instance, people with PsA may need to get up and stretch or walk around during the day to reduce pain and stiffness in the joints, explained Dr. Dafna Gladman, the senior author of the study and a rheumatologist at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. 

“If their job requires them to be sitting for long periods of time, there has to be some accommodation so they can get up every 45 to 60 minutes,” Gladman said. Other accommodations could include working from home or using ergonomic office furniture, she added. 

Is PsA the new water cooler conversation?

Having “The Talk” – the PsA talk, that is – with your boss isn’t easy. Just ask Terri Eggeman. It wasn’t until she found herself in tears at work that she broached the subject with her supervisor.

At the time, Eggeman had just been diagnosed with PsA. As a surgery nurse, many aspects of the job she’d been performing for years – things such as pushing stretchers, lifting patients, even hauling laundry bags – had become much more difficult. 

Talking with her supervisor brought much-needed relief, both from the physical challenges she was facing on the job and the stress of trying to deal with it on her own. With the help of her supervisor and colleagues, Eggeman said, she made changes to her work routine while still performing the job that made her proud. 

“I still pulled my weight, but I could stop and say, ‘I can’t do this. I have a chronic condition, and I need to make these adjustments occasionally,’” she said. 

Before you start that conversation with your own boss, take a moment to think about what you want to say, said Mel Brooke, who chairs a group for psoriatic arthritis patients in England known as PsAZZ. She urges patients to think carefully about what they want to share with their boss about their disease. 

Writing in a special issue of a PsAZZ newsletter devoted to work and PsA, she suggested, “It’s a good idea to take some time to think about what and when changes are needed before starting a conversation with an employer.”

Tools of the trade

When you speak with your boss or colleagues, consider discussing a few simple adjustments to your work space. The following changes to your work environment can make coping with PsA in the office a little easier:

Move frequently-used folders within easy reaching distance. Standing on your toes or crouching beneath your desk every time you need  something can put a lot of stress on your body. At the start of each day, move all of the folders or other materials you’ll need close to your chair so you can grab them without stretching and straining.

Try a hands-free headset for your phone. Wearing a headset for your phone calls is a lot less taxing than holding the phone to your ear or cradling it with your shoulder. Plus, freeing your hands makes it easier to take notes while you’re on calls.

Use an ergonomic chair. Getting the right support for your back and positioning your arm rests so your shoulders stay relaxed can keep you comfortable throughout the day. 

Make sure your computer monitor is the right height. If you’re looking up or down at your computer screen all day, your neck is getting a workout it doesn’t need. Your eyes should be level with the top of your screen. 

Use arthritis-friendly writing grips. Try pens and pencils with a big, soft grip, or buy grips you can slide on any writing instrument.

(Editor's note: See you on Monday, May 1, for Psoriatic Arthritis Action Week!)

The opinions expressed by NPF Blog contributors are their own and do not reflect the opinions or positions of the National Psoriasis Foundation. The information posted on the NPF Blog is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for professional medical advice.


Driving Discovery, Creating Community

This year, we’re celebrating 50 years of driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. See how far we’ve come with this timeline of NPF’s history. But there’s still plenty to do, and we can’t do it without you! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funding to promote research into better treatments and a cure by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or even create your own DIY event. Contact our Patient Navigation Center for free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today! Together, we will find a cure.

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