Can You Keep Working?

As arthritis progresses, depending on your job responsibilities, it may become increasingly difficult to continue working. People who have physical jobs and spend a majority of the work day standing, walking, lifting, or reaching, as well as people whose jobs require manual dexterity, face challenges which may become greater if arthritis is uncontrolled or symptoms worsen.

It's hard to know what to do as working becomes more difficult. It becomes a tug of war between hanging on to your job and acknowledging you can no longer work. It's probably one of the most difficult decisions you will ever have to make — deciding that you are truly disabled and can no longer work. Many people faced with that decision feel that the disease has won if they concede to being disabled. It should not be viewed as winning or losing; arthritis can be life changing and it brings new realities.

Twenty years ago, over one half of individuals with rheumatoid arthritis who worked before onset of the disease stopped working within ten years of diagnosis. It is one of the goals of newer treatments to keep people working longer and prevent disability. Clearly, people with arthritis try to work as long as possible, both for economic reasons and for the satisfaction that comes from living a productive life. Being aware of how arthritis can affect your ability to work may help you plan ahead and make adjustments that will keep you working.


According to the CDC, arthritis and other rheumatic conditions are recognized as the leading cause of disability in the United States. Approximately 30.6 percent of adults aged 18–64 with doctor-diagnosed arthritis report an arthritis-attributable work limitation.

Communicate with Your Employer

It's a common dilemma for people who are having difficulty at work — should you tell your boss arthritis is affecting your work or should you hide it as long as you can? The fear of losing your job may hold you back from talking to your boss and opening up the lines of communication. It's up to you to decide when the time is right to discuss your medical condition with your boss or employer. Don't assume the discussion will have a negative impact on your job, though. With the right approach, you may be able to find a solution that will help you stay on the job and perform better.

Depending on your work responsibilities, you may be able to request a flexible schedule, adaptations to your work environment, a different position that is less physically demanding, and a change from full time to part time.

Be aware that some of the changes listed above may result in alterations to your benefits. Before you change positions or switch from full time to part time, discuss the effect it may have with your employer or benefits manager. The change may keep you working and may be worth a cut in pay or less benefits if it comes to that. You want to make informed decisions and avoid surprises.

Communicate with Your Co-workers

You may find solace in the understanding you will receive from your co-workers. Be open with them and help them understand. Explain why certain tasks are difficult for you or why you limp some days but not others. Don't expect them to know and don't be annoyed at their lack of knowledge with regard to arthritis.

You still have a responsibility to be productive at your job. No one is going to do your job for you. Yet, the small acts of kindness your co-workers may offer from time to time, such as lifting a box for you or reaching something from a top shelf, can help tremendously. Even just having their moral support throughout the workday is uplifting.

Knowing When It's Time to Stop Working

How do you know when it's time to stop working? If you're still asking yourself that question, it's not the right time. Many doctors advise that you should keep working for as long as you can. When your work is negatively impacting your quality of life, then you should seriously consider applying for disability. Prepare for the day you have to quit your job, with the hope that it may never come. Preparedness will allow you to make the right decision at the right time.

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