Arthritis at work

Arthritis can affect people’s ability to work, but flexible working and work adaptations can make all the difference.


Musculoskeletal conditions, including arthritis, are the most prevalent diseases in the UK working population. Many want to work, but the pain and fatigue these conditions cause often makes working life hard. According to Arthritis Research UK, only 59.4% of people of working age with a musculoskeletal condition are in work. 

With the UK’s working population ageing, musculoskeletal conditions (and mental health problems which are often related to physical pain) have been recognised as particular problems among older workers.

The Government recently announced a pilot to help get people with musculoskeletal problems back to work. The aim is to introduce employment advice within musculoskeletal pathways through building an understanding of the most promising local approaches, gathering evidence of impact and developing the case for wider roll-out. 

But for many it remains a struggle to keep working. We spoke to one woman who is one of the 10 million people in the UK who have arthritis. She told us how she manages and what helps.

Sophie is from West Yorkshire. Her career has been in specialist sales and customer service roles and she currently works in the IT sector.

She has inflammatory arthritis, a long-term condition which flares and wanes, causes extreme tiredness and can be unpredictable, making her life unpredictable as well. Sophie, a single mum, is under specialist care and medication, but her condition still makes it hard balancing the demands of parenting, working, household chores and having some personal time.

Work adaptations

Sophie started her current job in 2021, just a few weeks after receiving her inflammatory arthritis diagnosis, a difficult time with adjustments all round. When informing her employer they asked: “What should we expect, what do we need to know?” and Sophie didn’t have the answers herself. She feels lucky that she is in a specialist role, her skills are in demand, and her employer has been really accommodating.

She works 25 hours a week over five days, mainly from home. It’s a struggle at times as inflamed feet can make walking hard going and painful hands can make keyboard work difficult. Sophie has set up her space with ergonomically suitable chair, desk, equipment and keyboard. This is really helpful as she points out: “Getting suitably dressed, made up and physically getting to an office can take all my energy before I’ve done a drop of work!”

Flexible working

Discussing flexible working, Sophie is keen to point out that many employers are missing out on hiring great people with great skills if they aren’t adaptable enough in their outlook on flexibility. She is pleased that things are moving in the right direction with the new Flexible Working Regulation changes which allow a day one right to request flexible working. However, she adds it still makes for a difficult situation when employers ask whether people can stay late, attend an extra meeting or help out beyond their job scope, and they physically don’t have the capacity to do so.

Sophie has found attending Arthritis Action online groups really positive as talking with others in similar situations helps her not to feel so isolated with her condition and exchanging tips and advice has been useful to help her manage her busy life.

*For further advice on managing life with arthritis visit the Arthritis Action website or to join a group like Sophie has go to

**Picture credit: The top picture is licensed by R M Media Ltd under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence.

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