Osteoarthritis in the workplace

Last modified: December 12, 2019

There are several risk factors for osteoarthritis. The underlying cause is an incorrect or excessive strain on the joints, but this can occur in different ways. Common factors that may accelerate the progression of the disease are excess weight, inactivity, heredity (i.e. the physical formation of the joint), prevous joint injuries, or excessive strain (for example in the form of extreme sporting activity at an elite level). However, since we spend a great deal of time at work, the strain that our jobs puts on our joints is a major contributory factor. For this reason, it’s important to strive to prevent osteoarthritis in the workplace.

The highest risk for osteoarthritis comes from a monotonous movements combined with heavy loads. Work that involves rotating the joints and the risk of uneven loads present a particularly high risk. There are certain professions that are disproportionately represented in osteoarthritis sufferers, for example craftsmen, farmers, and factory workers. As a result, people in these jobs may develop symptoms of osteoarthritis more often and earlier than others.

Osteoarthritis symptoms

The first symptoms of osteoarthritis are usually stiffness and pain in the joints. Initially, the pain usually occurs when the joints are under strain. The stiffness, however, is usually most present after periods of resting. For example, it might be hard to get moving again after sitting down for a while. Over time, pain when resting can also develop. If osteoarthritis is not treated, the stiffness and pain can lead to severe disabilities. It is therefore important to put a treatment plan in place as soon as the osteoarthritis diagnosis is set.

Work as a risk factor

Risk factors for osteoarthritis often coincide. For example, an overweight person may be at higher risk if they’ve also had a joint injury previously. The more factors that increase strain on the joint, the greater the risk of osteoarthritis. In the same way, people with hard manual work more often suffer from the disease. However, this doesn’t mean that they are guaranteed to develop osteoarthritis just because they have a physical job. Nor does it mean that you can’t suffer from osteoarthritis if you work in an office. It is just a question of higher or lower probability.

Professional groups where osteoarthritis is over-represented

Professional groups that frequently use stairs or climb ladders are over-represented in hip and knee osteoarthritis. In these professions, it is then important to train the muscles surrounding the hips and knees in order to reduce the strain on the joints. It is also a good idea to use tools to facilitate the work and reduce the risk of damaging strain on the joints. If your work involves high stress on your joints, you should look out for any osteoarthritis symptoms and take them seriously.

Examples of professional groups that frequently carry heavy weights, use stairs or climb ladders include cleaners, window cleaners, and builders. Other professional groups with a high prevalence of osteoarthritis are people who work in stores, warehouses and industrial workers. It is also common for people working in the health care sector to develop osteoarthritis. The reasons for this include the heavy lifting and other regular strains on the joints. In certain professions there are also twisting movements that can put an uneven strain on the joints.

Joint pain can lead to early retirement

Prolonged sick leaves and early retirement is common amongst people suffering from osteoarthritis who also have physically demanding professions. Cleaners and builders are examples of professions that place high on the list for sick pay. The goods news is that there are ways to prevent sick leaves and retirement. For people who develop symptoms of osteoarthritis, it is obviously important to have the right treatment.

Read more about prolonged sick leave as a result of osteoarthritis.

It used to be seen as normal for people with physically demanding professions to develop joint pain when they got older. The pain was treated for as long as possible with painkillers. After that, the person was put on sick leave with even more painkillers or cortisone injections, and finally prosthetic surgery. We now know that the most effective treatment for osteoarthritis is exercise. Adjusted exercise, weight reduction, and an active lifestyle can often alleviate pain and improve mobility.

Early intervention is important

A person with a physically demanding job who experiences osteoarthritis symptoms should seek help as early as possible. The first step is to get a diagnosis from a general practitioner or physical therapist. The recommended treatment for osteoarthritis is to then start rehabilitating training. The vast majority of people manage with this type of treatment and never need surgery.

Read more about osteoarthritis in young and older people.