Painful condition 'just a part of life'

BRONWYN TORRIE
HEALTH REPORTER
Last updated 05:00 06/09/2012
Joanne Wakelin
DIEGO OPATOWSKI/Fairfax NZ

COPING WELL: Joanne Wakelin, of Porirua, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis.

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When Joanne Wakelin woke up in the middle of the night with a searing pain in her shoulder, the last thing she thought it could be was rheumatoid arthritis.

She initially put it down to bad posture while sitting at her laptop, but when the pain did not go away she went to her GP.

The 50-year-old Porirua woman has lived with the painful condition for 23 years, but hasn't let it get in the way of working. Though she can't play sports, she can contribute fully to her work as a consultant.

This has been made possible by understanding employers, who have accommodated the small changes required to furniture and computer equipment. There are no physical signs of her arthritis, but she does take daily pain relief and weekly medication to stop it from progressing.

Appointments with a rheumatologist, who diagnoses and treats arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles and bones, were also necessary for good management.

"It is just part of my life. I don't sit around thinking about it a great deal and I have a range of interests . . . I just carry on as normal really."

A WORKING MODEL FOR ATHRITIS

One in four people suffer from musculoskeletal disorders, such as arthritis, which cost the country more than $5.5 billion each year, a new report says.

And the number of people living with at least one type of arthritis is expected to climb, tightening the squeeze on our already strained health and welfare systems.

By 2020, more than 650,000 Kiwis aged over 15 will have arthritis, compared with 530,000 now.

The report, entitled: Fit For Work? Musculoskeletal Disorders and the New Zealand Labour Market, calls for a focus on early detection and intervention to ensure people with these disabling conditions keep working.

GPs should also focus on thinking beyond the physical symptoms.

Employers and employees should look not at incapacity, but at the capacity of what sufferers can do in the workplace, the report says.

Developing a national plan was needed to co-ordinate action from the government, medical professionals and employers to help sufferers get back into work.

Musculoskeletal disorders include the 140 types of arthritis, back, neck and joint pain and work-related conditions such as repetitive strain injury.

They affect sufferers' stamina, ability to concentrate, mood, mobility and agility. Depression or anxiety are also likely.

They are the leading cause of disability in New Zealand and are the second largest category of conditions resulting in sickness and invalid benefit payments, the report says.

Each year, $140 million in ACC claims was paid to people who could not work because of these disorders, musculoskeletal injury prevention programme manager Chris Polaczuk said.

Rotorua rheumatologist John Petrie said it was important to rehabilitate people to keep them in the workforce.

"Retaining the normalcy of getting up each morning and going to work is good for overall wellbeing.

"When you have pain, that's bad enough, but when you have been ostracised from work . . . and feel lonely and disabled, that can be very soul-destroying for individuals."

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Arthritis New Zealand chief executive Sandra Kirby said doctors and employers needed to do more to assist people back into work as early as possible into roles that suited their ability.

"Mornings are not great for people with arthritis, whatever their age." Sometimes, flexible working hours could enable a sufferer to stay in work.

Treatments had advanced in the past 20 years for arthritis, which also affects about 1000 Kiwi children.

Some forms of arthritis were caused by wear and tear, some were genetic and others could be triggered by an infection, Ms Kirby said.

The report was made public yesterday at the Immune Mediated Inflammatory Diseases conference in Nelson.

It was created by The Work Foundation, which is part of Lancaster University in northern Britain.

Contact Bronwyn Torrie
Health reporter
Email: bronwyn.torrie@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @brontorrie

- The Dominion Post

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