By Sarah Terrible, as told to Janie McQueen
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of inflammatory arthritis that affects your spine, although it can affect other joints, too. Many people who have this condition report chronic back pain and stiffness. If you have it, you should do as much you can to promote good posture and avoid straining your back.
I recommend bringing an occupational therapist into your home to make specific changes to suit your needs. You can also take these steps to make day-to-day life easier
Adjust Your Home for Ankylosing Spondylitis
Maintaining good posture is the most important thing you can do when you have ankylosing spondylitis. Avoid slouching. Things that can help include:
A supportive mattress. A firm mattress will help you keep good posture while you’re asleep. Your back should retain its natural S-shaped curve when you lie on it. When you lie on your side, your back should be straight.
Supportive pillows. Memory foam pillows can help ease neck and shoulder pain. Avoid pillows that are too thick or high and put your neck at an awkward angle.
Postural training. Slouching increases the strain on your spine. Practicing good posture techniques can help you avoid it.
Live Smart, Not Hard
Small changes around the house can help you live with less pain. They also save energy so you have more for other activities later in the day. You can also:
Store everyday items in easy-to-reach areas. This helps you avoid bending, reaching over your head, and twisting. Keep the things you use most often on the countertop or in cabinets about waist level.
Use a chair or step stool. You can do things like wash dishes, meal prep, and shower while you’re sitting down. This wards off back pain caused by standing for a long time. If you’d rather stand, use a step stool to rest a leg that may be achy or tired.
People with AS can use tools like:
Long-handled devices. Shoehorns, sock aids, and sponges help make daily tasks, like bathing and dressing, easier. They
also help you avoid too much bending or twisting.
A reacher. This can help you pick things up off the floor, above your head, or to your side. This prevents repeated bending, stretching, and twisting.
Raised toilet seat. Pain and stiffness in your back, hips, and knees can make sitting down on the toilet and standing up a challenge. A raised seat requires less bending and stretching.
Built-up grips. Larger and wider handles on utensils and other tools lower the strength needed to grip them.
Keep track of how you’re feeling. Is your energy higher in the morning or the afternoon? Schedule activities that might take a lot out of you during these times. If your back tends to hurt more in the morning, do things that might put more strain on it -- like meal prep -- in the afternoon.
Lower back stiffness and pain are common symptoms of AS. They can affect how you walk. So it’s important to make your home as safe as possible. You can:
- Remove or tape down throw rugs.
- Clear clutter around your home to make falls less likely.
- Install handrails on both sides of any stairs, in the shower, and by the toilet.
- Put a bench in your tub to help you get in and out.
- Place slip mats in the bathtub and by the toilet.
Use It or Lose It
Staying active is probably the best thing you can do to manage your AS. Exercise helps ease pain and keeps you flexible. It also improves your mobility, posture, and strength. Exercises may include:
Flexibility and range-of-motion exercises. These help keep you mobile and ward off stiffness.
Exercises to build back, core, and glute strength. They also help with stability and proper posture.
Balance exercises. These can help you stay safe. Stiffness and poor posture raise your risk of falling.
Diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Deep breathing makes your chest bigger. This helps you breathe better and manage stress.
When feeling the physical and mental effects of ankylosing spondylitis, it helps to know you aren't alone. You don’t even have to leave home. Digital, patient-driven communities like www.creakyjoints.org offer support, education, and advocacy, and connect people -- and their families -- worldwide.
Sarah Terrible, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.