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Employment and work disability in rheumatoid arthritis

Backman, Catherine L.

Current Opinion in Rheumatology: March 2004 - Volume 16 - Issue 2 - p 148-152
Rehabilitation medicine in rheumatic diseases

Purpose of review The cost of work disability due to rheumatoid arthritis is substantial to both individuals and society. Approximately one third of people with rheumatoid arthritis will leave employment prematurely. Several studies over the past two decades have identified risk factors for work disability, and recent literature suggests increasing interest in ways to assess work limitations and offer interventions to prevent work loss.

Recent findings Work disability results from a complex interaction of characteristics of individuals, the nature of their work, and their environment, including the physical workplace, policies related to work accommodation, and interpersonal relationships. Practitioners need tools to help identify patients experiencing limitations in the workplace and at risk for permanent work disability. Two new tools show promise in this area. Although there is general agreement that vocational assessment and intervention should occur early in the course of rheumatoid arthritis, evidence for vocational rehabilitation is sadly lacking. A recent systematic review identified only six studies, all uncontrolled, but suggestive of beneficial effects.

Summary Assessment of possible work limitations and potential for vocational rehabilitation should be considered in the evaluation of employed patients and those wishing to work. Further development and evaluation of work retention and return-to-work programs for people with rheumatoid arthritis is required.

The University of British Columbia and Research Scientist, The Arthritis Research Centre of Canada, Vancouver, Canada

Correspondence to Catherine L. Backman, The University of British Columbia School of Rehabilitation Sciences, T325-2211 Wesbrook Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 2B5 Canada

Tel: 604 822 7409; fax: 604 822 7624; e-mail

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.