For the women who need us most

For the women who need us most

I’m Werking On My…

I’m Werking On My…

Working with arthritis: when you have to power through chronic pain
By Trudie Whitham
Image: working with arthritis, in pain

For many, work doesn’t stop just because they’re sick or in pain. Pay checks and wages often take priority over a person’s own physical and mental health – but when that pain is chronic it’s so much harder.

According to Versus Arthritis, around 15.5 million people in England have chronic pain.

There are many types of chronic pain and they can be invisible, low or high impact and affect people’s lives in different levels of severity. One type in particular is arthritis, which around 10 million people in the UK suffer with.

Helen Whitham works for Greencore, a food producer factory, and she also has arthritis in both of her knees. Working as a cook within batch production means heavy-lifting, bending, and standing for long periods of time are included in her work day.

She works four days a week and her shifts are 12 hours long and it takes a big toll on her chronic pain.

“My knees hurt so much it made me want to throw up but I kept having drinks of cold water – because I have a job as a cook it does allow me to move around a little to relieve the pain.

“Even though I was in so much pain, I couldn’t have time off because I have bills to pay.

“I went to the doctors who referred me to their physio and they told me there was nothing wrong with my knee and that I should just download some exercises – which I couldn’t do because it was too painful. 

“Fast forward a year and my other knee had the same symptoms but worse so instead of going to the doctors I went to my work’s physio who told me I had arthritis in both knees.

“She gave me some gentle exercises to do but also advised me to seek out my doctors for some strong pain relief – she did such a good job and was much more attentive than the physio that the doctor referred me to.

“Being originally dismissed by my doctors made me feel that if they had diagnosed the arthritis, that was originally only in one knee, then I could have had the medication that would have prevented the second knee from flaring up – when one knee hurts the other one compensates.

“The tablets that the doctor gave me made my knees feel more bearable to carry on with my job. I’m feeling a lot better now that my arthritis has finally calmed down but I’m still scared that it might flare up again.”

Experiencing major levels of pain was impacting her ability to work, live her life properly and even when she got home she wasn’t able to relax because the pain was still ongoing. As well as arthritis, Helen also has another variation which is called gout. This is a type of arthritis that’s caused by too much uric acid in the body and it causes intense pain, redness and swelling. Despite these conditions she still has to carry on working, no matter the pain level.

If you think you might have arthritis and it’s affecting your life and work then you should visit your GP, refer yourself to your closest arthritis service, or visit Versus Arthritis for help and support.