Repetitive physical tasks at work increase risk of rheumatoid arthritis

People whose jobs involve carrying out repetitive physical tasks can be at an elevated risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, research has suggested.

The study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, presented at the European League Against Rheumatism’s annual congress, is the first study to show a link between physical workloads and rheumatoid arthritis, the charity Arthritis Research UK has argued.

The research examined data from 3,680 rheumatoid arthritis patients and 5,935 matched controls, and concluded that some types of physical work increased the odds of developing arthritis more than others. Exposure to repeated vibration, carrying or lifting weights greater than 10kg, bending or turning, and working with hands either below knee level or above shoulder level were all associated with an elevated risk of developing the disease.

Dr Katherine Free, research liaison manager at Arthritis Research UK, said: “We have known for some time that repeatedly undertaking high-impact activity can put a lot of stress on weight-bearing joints.

“It is concerning to see evidence that repetitive physical work could also increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis; however, we would stress that keeping active remains an important tool for helping to manage many forms of arthritis, and working benefits people’s mental wellbeing, as well allowing them to remain independent,” she added.

Separately, research has suggested around 28 million people in the UK are living and working with chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis – almost triple the number previously thought.

According to calculations published on BMJ Open, between one-third and half of UK adults experience pain that lasts for more than three months.

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