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Tips for Daily Life with Ankylosing Spondylitis

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on November 10, 2020

Life with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is easier when you learn ways to better deal with the pain, stiffness, and fatigue it can cause.

With a few simple tools and hacks, you may be able to move easier, sleep better, and get more done.

Keep Moving

Exercise is one of the best ways to manage AS. Your doctor or physical therapist will work with you to figure out what types of exercise are best.

Here are some tips for making the most of your routine:

  • Time your workout well. Do it at the time of day when you have the most energy and are less likely to be in pain.
  • Take a warm shower or bath before you exercise. This helps loosen up your muscles and joints so you can move better.
  • Start off slowly, and take time to warm up.
  • Ask your doctor if it's OK to do high-impact exercise or contact sports like football. If you have stiffness or fusion in your spine, you're more likely to get injured.
  • Maintain good posture when you work out to reduce strain in your spine.

Sleep Soundly

Your body needs sleep to be its best. That's especially true when you have ankylosing spondylitis. Sleep loss due to pain or stiffness can mean worse symptoms the next day.

Take these steps to sleep well and wake up without pain:

  • Get the right mattress. If yours is too soft, too hard, or saggy, it's time for a new one. It should be soft enough to spread your weight evenly but firm enough to hold your body in place. Make sure it has good-quality box springs, too.
  • Sleep without a pillow. This helps keep your neck and spine aligned. If you can't, find one that's thin and squishy.
  • Don’t sleep on your stomach. It puts too much pressure on your neck and back. Back sleeping is best. If that's hard for you, try raising your knees with a thin pillow or rolled-up towel.
  • Use good sleep hygiene. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet. (A white noise machine can help.) Limit caffeine and screen time before bed.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Take a warm bath or shower and do some gentle stretches before bed.

Take Care of Your Feet

People with AS sometimes get a painful condition called plantar fasciitis. It causes discomfort in the arch of your foot or in your heel. Plantar fasciitis can make it harder to get the exercise you need.

To avoid foot problems:

  • Always wear supportive, comfortable shoes.
  • See a foot specialist (podiatrist) for custom insoles that fit into your shoes, sometimes called orthotics. These take the pressure off certain parts of your feet.
  • Do gentle foot stretching exercises. Here's a simple one: From a seated position, place a round object (like a tennis ball) under the arch of your foot. Roll the item around in every direction. Do this at least twice a day.

Around the House

Do your cleaning and cooking at times when your pain is manageable and you're not too fatigued. Start prepping your meals ahead of time. Take frequent breaks if you need them.

Other tricks that may help:

  • Use a long-handled grabber in the kitchen, while doing laundry, or any other time you need to stretch and reach for things. Choose gardening and cleaning tools with long handles, too.
  • Look for a lightweight, easy-to-handle vacuum cleaner. A cordless one may be best.
  • If you're fatigued, sit down when doing kitchen prep work or folding clothes. But don't sit for long stretches of time. That could make your fatigue worse.
  • Don't forget to delegate. Ask for help around the house when your energy is low.

At Work

Take steps to keep your energy high and your pain low on the job:

  • Pace yourself. Space your work activities out through the day as much as possible. Set priorities and tackle the most important duties when you're most energetic. Instead of doing the same thing for a long time, try to alternate different tasks.
  • Make your workstation comfortable. If you use an office chair, make sure it has lower back support. Position your computer monitor at eye level. Sit up straight to keep your spine in line. Some people find a standing desk more comfortable.
  • Take frequent breaks throughout the day. Avoid sitting for long periods. Walk over to your co-worker instead of sending an email. Get outside on your lunch break and take a walk.

When You Travel

Don't let AS stop you from hitting the road. Take these steps to help you manage your condition on the go:

  • If you're driving, sit up straight. Use a cushion for your lower back if that helps. To avoid fatigue, pain, and stiffness, stop often to get out and stretch. A wraparound rear-view mirror helps if it hurts to turn your head.
  • Check heavy bags when you fly. When you board, tell an attendant about your condition so they can help you lift items overhead. Walk around and stretch as much as you can during your flight.
  • Take along enough medication, and keep it with you. If yours needs to be refrigerated, carry it in a cooler bag. Bring a copy of your prescription in case you lose it or run out.
  • Take care of yourself. Travel can be tiring. Don't try to pack too much sightseeing into one day. Schedule downtime to rest and refresh yourself.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society: "Living well with axial SpA (AS)," "Managing your axial SpA (AS) at work," "Managing your AS at work: answers and practical advice."

Arthritis Foundation: "Supplement and Herb Guide for Arthritis Symptoms," "Find the Best and Worst Shoes for Arthritis," "6 Self-Care Tips for axSpA" "8 Tips for Pain-free Travel," "Inflammatory Arthritis and Gut Health," "Treatment Options for Axial Spondyloarthritis," "Juvenile Ankylosing Spondylitis," "9 Tips to Make Your Morning Routine With Arthritis Easier."

Spondylitis Association of America: "Tips For Sleeping Better With Spondyloarthritis," "Exercise," "Just Plane Flying with Ankylosing Spondylitis: Tips for Travel Day."

UpToDate: "Patient education: Ankylosing spondylitis (The Basics)," Patient education: Ankylosing spondylitis (Beyond the Basics)."

Versus Arthritis: "Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS)," "Your home," "Plantar Fasciitis."

Arthritis Society: "Top Tools: Assistive Devices to Help Manage Daily Life with Arthritis."

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