December 30, 1995
Web posted at: 3:45 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Rhonda Rowland
(CNN) -- Nearly 40 million Americans have arthritis -- but studies now show that relief from the disease's aches and pains may be found in the workplace.
Eight months ago, it was almost impossible for Essie Sims to life pots and pans. Because of rheumatoid arthritis, keeping her kitchen in order was the least of her concerns.
"It was hard for me to get out of bed," she explains. "I guess that was the first thing: getting out of bed and getting dressed."
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease affecting the joints, making them stiff and swollen. It leaves some people virtually bedridden. But Essie Sims did not want the disease to dominate her life, so she returned to work full time.
"I was focusing on my work and not on my pain," she says.
Pain can be managed to a certain degree with medications. And although there is no cure, new research shows that women who are employed stay healthier than those who don't work outside the home.
"Women who are employed outside the home become focused on the challenges of employment," says Susan Reisine of the University of Connecticut, "and are therefore distracted from their symptoms and tend to report better health status."
The same research applies to men as well.
But actually doing the work may be a lot easier said than done. Some job tasks, such as typing and phone work, can put stress on the joints, making the pain worse.
Sharyn Doanes has continued on the job despite being diagnosed with arthritis 10 years ago. But recently, performing her duties as vice president of human resources became almost impossible due to worsening pain and stiffness in her hands.
But Doanes has been able to continue work with the help of occupational therapist Wendy Davis.
"What I do is I help patients achieve their maximum level of functioning," says Davis, "in whatever setting they live or work in."
Davis says that different patients have different needs. For some, simple splints or braces give the necessary support.
"For some people, it's using a wrist rest for their computer at work, or a headset if they're on the phone a good bit of the day," she says. "Simple things like that can make a big difference in someone's quality of life at work or at home."
For people like Doanes and Sims, working can be a double - edged sword. Although research shows a job can improve overall health in the long run, actually doing the job can increase the pain and stiffness. But as some patients are discovering, it's a hurdle worth climbing.
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