July 13, 2005

Simple Steps Prevent Arthritis from Preventing Work

NEW YORK -- Good posture, a phone headset and frequent breaks can help prevent arthritis from holding people back at work, according to an expert.

Dr. Diana Baldwin of the University of Missouri-Columbia also recommended keeping a computer monitor and important tasks within arm's length, and leaving wrists in a neutral position, or bent slightly downward, to prevent arthritis.

According to Baldwin, arthritis is the second most common cause of workplace disability, after heart disease. Indeed, half of the 23 million people with arthritis are no longer able to work 10 years after their diagnosis.

However, studies show that a supportive environment, a feeling of control, and a flexible schedule helps people with arthritis stay at work.

Some common signs that arthritis is interfering with work include fatigue or muscle weakness, pain while doing a task, swollen joints, feeling the need to frequently shift positions, and lasting pain or stiffness.

Currently, Baldwin is conducting a study of what steps workers with arthritis can take early on to stay on the job. As part of the study, she is following 140 people with arthritis, half of whom receive a personal visit, during which the researcher observes them at work to identify what aspects of their environment might eventually worsen their arthritis.

"Even if their disease process gets worse, they will know things they can do" to stay on the job, Baldwin said.

In an interview, the researcher explained that stretching is one of the most important step workers can take to keep their arthritis under control. Workers should consider stretching out major joints, such as shoulders, elbows and the neck, and, in addition, tensing and relaxing muscle groups to move toxic chemicals out of the muscles, she said.

She noted that people with arthritis are at risk of becoming unable to work because their arthritis leaves them more vulnerable to musculoskeletal problems such as lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and neck and shoulder problems.

Baldwin added that it's also very important to keep good posture at work, which means ensuring that the head, neck, shoulders, wrists and elbows are in a neutral position, where the body can most effectively use its muscles.

"Those are the kinds of things that make a difference," she said.

Another tip: leave everything you need within arm's reach, so you don't have to put your body in awkward positions, bending muscles in the wrong shape, Baldwin added.


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