Whether you take an elevator to your cubicle or brew some coffee at home and pull out your laptop to get to work, many people with arthritis take part in “the daily grind” of being employed in an office or remote/home workstation.
RA symptoms in the hands may make typing on a laptop keyboard very difficult.
Watch: Hand Rheumatoid Arthritis Video
In order to care for and manage your arthritis throughout your workday in an office environment, consider these tips:
- Be mindful of workspace ergonomics.
As tempting as it may be to work from the couch all day, you should seek out a workspace that allows you to sit upright and keep your back and neck straight, your elbows and knees bent at 90 degree angles, and your feet on the floor.
Use a sturdy chair with good lumbar support and sit in front of a table or desk that’s at about waist height when you’re sitting down. Arm rests are helpful for those with arthritis in their arms or hands too.
- Lift your laptop.
Despite their name, laptops are not good to use on your lap, because looking down at the screen can cause bad posture and pain in your back and neck. But they’re not much better sitting at eye level, either—then your arms and wrist are strained by reaching up to the keyboard. Laptops are designed for portability, not good ergonomics.
The best way to solve this problem is to do one or both of the following:
- Use books or a stand to elevate your laptop screen so it’s just below eye level.
- Use a separate, detachable keyboard that you can use with your elbows at 90 degrees and your wrists level.
- Find a keyboard that’ll keep your wrists happy.
If you’re getting a detachable keyboard anyway, consider one that’s easier on arthritic hands and wrists. Options include a sloped keyboard that’s high in the middle, a keyboard that's split in two, and/or one that's padded to protect the wrists.
For people with severe hand pain or stiffness, there are even keyboards that are controlled by 2 domes that you rest your hands on and shift slightly to type. There are also short key and word prediction software programs that can help you minimize keystrokes.
- Use a more mobile mouse.
Laptops that have a track pad or tiny joystick may be difficult for arthritis-affected hands to manipulate. Consider using a detachable mouse that is ergonomically suited to your hand mobility. Or work on a tablet or computer equipped with a touchscreen.
- Add other adaptive equipment as needed.
Several online retailers carry adaptive office supplies for those with arthritis, such as pen grips, special scissors, document holders, and book lights/magnifiers. If your arthritis qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, your employer can provide the assistive devices you need to do your job on a case-by-case basis. Talk with your human resources representative to find out more.
- Brace yourself for additional workday support.
You may find that, even with assistive devices, you need extra support during the workday for an arthritic wrist. In this case, consider wearing a working brace, which can stabilize and strengthen your wrist and hand as you carry out daily tasks. Unlike a hard plastic brace that may provide complete immobility at night, a working brace is often made of neoprene with Velcro straps and provides for some flexibility.
- Give your brain and body the breaks they need.
Work smartly by practicing good posture. Take breaks to rest your eyes and get up and walk around. Stay hydrated by keeping a water bottle at your desk. Know your limitations, and talk with your employer if you need assistance with other ways to do your job in an effective and pain-free manner.