Whether you’re newish to working from home (thank you global pandemic), or you’ve been working this way your entire career, psoriatic arthritis (PsA) can make teleworking a painful grind. Between the lack of the built-in breaks to grab coffee or lunch with coworkers and having a blurry separation between your work and living space, you may find your symptoms are flaring more than usual. You may be struggling more with joint pain thanks to sitting in one spot all day, or running out of energy by lunchtime thanks to fatigue. Whatever your struggle, we know it’s real—PsA symptoms can seriously cut into your productivity—not to mention your overall happiness.
Aside from staying on top of your PsA medications (a must), there are other things you can do to improve your work-from-home routine and setup to make things easier—thank goodness! We talked to the experts to bring you five genius tips that will help you work more comfortably from home with PsA—and with many companies extending remote work through at least next summer, there’s no time like the present to make these changes.
1. Ease Into Your Day
Planning ahead is everything. That’s what Tanya Graham has realized. The 42-year-old from Orange, CA, has had psoriatic arthritis most of her life, and she's been working from home for the last five years as a learning and development coach. Graham has her schedule down to a science, and it starts with fool-proof morning routine that could set you up for success, too.
Here’s the thing: Morning stiffness is one of the most common symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF). Your joint swelling and decreased range of motion may be at their worst right when you wake up in the morning or after long periods of rest.
To combat this, get strategic about when you set your alarm and give yourself a decent chunk of time before you need to hit your desk, Graham recommends. She likes to start work around 9 a.m., so she wakes up at 6:30 a.m., takes her medication, and gives her joints the time they need to “unlock.”
“I spend a half hour or an hour in the morning stretching, listening to a podcast, reading a romance novel—whatever. I take that time to go slowly, so I don’t have to rush into the day,” she says.
2. Schedule Breaks for Movement and Rest
When you’re scheduling your day, breaks are crucial for your PsA, says Minna Kohler, M.D., director of the rheumatology musculoskeletal ultrasound program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
“If you’re working in front of the computer, taking scheduled breaks to move around and stretch can help reduce joint stiffness and pain,” she says. In fact, a survey by the arthritis nonprofit Creaky Joints found that 65% of people with PsA had trouble sitting or standing for long hours.
Graham literally schedules these breaks into her work calendar. “I have a little alarm on my phone every hour and a half so I can take breaks and walk around,” she says. Typically, she’ll move work locations when her alarm goes off so that her body isn’t sitting in the same position all day long. For example, she’ll start the day working at the kitchen table, then move to the couch so she can stretch her legs out, then to her comfy gaming chair (more on that later)—you get the idea.
Beyond these shorter breaks, making time in your workday—even if it’s before or after work—to do more formal exercise is also a good idea, says Celine Ward, M.D., assistant professor in the division of rheumatology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.“It is very important to dedicate time every day to any type of physical activity such as walking, running, swimming,” says Dr. Ward. “If you do not move, your muscles become weak and your joints can become stiffer than they already are.”
Not sure where to start with an exercise routine? Dr. Ward suggests looking into interval training—basically, exercise that combines short bursts of intense activity with periods of lower intensity or rest. “Interval training has been shown to substantially decrease fatigue in patients with psoriatic arthritis,” she says.
In addition to taking breaks to move around, taking breaks to rest is just as important, says Graham.
“Balancing your energy levels is the biggest thing with PsA when you’re working from home,” she says. “When you’re tired, take a break. I have 3 to 4 p.m. blocked off in my calendar every day. I don’t take meetings or anything during that hour. That hour may be just me meditating, because my energy’s low, I’m exhausted, and I’m in pain, so I stay on top of it. Or I take that hour and I have a nap—whatever I need to do to take that break.”
3. Eat Smart During Your Workday
Another way to streamline your day and conserve energy? Plan your meals (and snacks) in advance. Do this the night before, at least—even better, meal prep on the weekends.
“For example, it’s lunch time, and I have last night’s dinner ready to go in a single serving so all I have to do is stick it in the microwave,” Graham says.
The foods you eat also can have an impact on your workday with PsA, Dr. Ward says.
“Try to eat a healthy diet, and try to avoid gaining weight because weight gain can decrease the response to medical treatments,” she says. “Weight gain can be avoided by setting up a routine and eating at specific times as well as avoiding snacks in between meals.”
While there’s no one diet that’s recommended for people with PsA, eating an anti-inflammatory or Mediterranean diet is a great option, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF). That means avoiding foods that may promote inflammation in the body, like fatty red meats, processed foods, refined sugars, and dairy. Instead, stock your kitchen with fish, fruits and veggies in a range of colors, olive oil, walnuts, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds, the NPF says.
And don’t forget: Staying hydrated is super important when you have any form of arthritis, per the Arthritis Foundation. Aim for at least eight glasses a day.
“You need to be hydrated when you work from home, and you cannot live on coffee alone,” Graham says.
It can help to get a water bottle that you like—Graham recommends S’well brand ($25-45, S’well) because of their textured and curved bottle shape and flip-open lids ($10, S’well), which are easier to grip for those with painful hands and fingers.
“Psoriatic arthritis also can have other inflammatory features not seen with osteoarthritis including enthesitis, inflammation of tendon insertions and dactylitis (soft tissue swelling of entire digits, also known as sausage digits),” Dr. Kohler says.
4. Optimize Your Workspace
When it’s time to sign on for work, make sure you’ve got yourself a comfortable and functional workspace that considers your body’s needs. For many people, working from home means spending 9 to 5 at a computer, typing away. Setting up an ergonomic workspace is crucial, according to Creaky Joints. Here are some tips to improve your setup:
Invest in ergonomically designed keyboards or use a wrist support to help reduce painful swelling.
Use a smaller mouse (like this one from Logitech, $24.99) that keeps your wrist straight to minimize pain. There are mouses in many shapes and sizes out there that may work better for you than the one that came with your workstation; you can also ask your employer if they are able to provide you with arthritis-friendly options.
Make sure your computer screen is an arm’s length away from you with the top of the screen at eye level. Use books to prop it up if necessary.
Work with your feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.
A comfortable chair is also a must. Whatever your budget, look for a chair with adequate back support, Creaky Joints recommends. For a budget-friendly option, Graham recommends looking into lumbar support pillows you can put on whatever chair you already have ($27.99, Amazon). If you’re looking to splurge, Graham has a gaming chair she raves about called an XRocker ($269.99, Amazon).
Another tip? Look into speech-to-text technology, recommends Graham. That way you can give your achy hands a break from all that keyboard tapping. That might mean using the built-in technology in your phone to dictate your emails or investing in software like Dragon (packages starting at $150, Nuance).
5. Manage Your Stress
We get it—work can be stressful, even when you’re telecommuting. Unfortunately, that stress can aggravate your PsA symptoms even more, contributing to inflammation and pain, Dr. Kohler says. “In addition to physical activity, activities such as mindfulness, meditation, and staying connected with loved ones can help reduce stress and promote an overall sense of well-being,” she recommends.
Managing stress is a huge part of managing your PsA, agrees Dr. Ward. Finding an activity that helps you destress can be helpful, she says, like gardening or playing music.
The Arthritis Foundation also suggests keeping track of your PsA symptoms and possible triggers, including stress. This gives you some data to work with to figure out which parts of your work-from-home day are causing you the most difficulty.
“I have a journal that I use to track my pain level at different times during the day, stiffness levels at different times of the day, energy levels, and my medications,” Graham says. You can even share that information with your doctor. “If they don’t have data, they can’t help you fix it.”
The Bottom Line on Working From Home With PsA
These changes can help you feel more prepared to work from home for the long haul during the pandemic. And if you’re struggling to find the perfect products or work-from-home strategy that works for you, don’t hesitate to reach out to an occupational therapist—these professionals are trained to help you find solutions that work for your specific needs.