Occupational hand use is increasing due to increased computer use and could place persons with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at risk for work disability. Although hand involvement in RA is typical, there is little information about occupational hand use in relation to RA. Study objectives were to describe the extent of occupational hand use by persons with RA; the types of jobs that require extensive hand use; the relationship between occupational hand use and joint pain; and the extent of occupational hand use among persons with shorter versus longer disease duration.
Cross-sectional survey data from 2,761 employed participants with RA from a US national cohort were used. Extent of occupational hand use was measured by the hand-use item from a job physical demand scale used in prior RA studies. Analyses included descriptive statistics and chi-square tests.
The mean age was 50.6 years, 78.5% were women, 91.8% were white, and 68.8% had more than a high school education. Eighty-three percent of participants reported extensive occupational hand use. Large portions of participants in all types of jobs reported extensive hand use, 92% with administrative support jobs and 69% with operator/laborer jobs. Participants with extensive occupational hand use were more likely to have hand joint pain than those with moderate hand use (66% versus 58%; P = 0.004). Extensive hand use did not vary by disease duration (83% and 84% in participants with ≤15 and >15 years' duration, respectively).
Extensive occupational hand use was ubiquitous among employed persons with RA and was associated with greater hand pain.