Employment and work disability in rheumatoid arthritis

Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2004 Mar;16(2):148-52. doi: 10.1097/00002281-200403000-00014.


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.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / epidemiology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / rehabilitation*
  • Disabled Persons / rehabilitation*
  • Employment*
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors