An exacerbation of symptoms makes life harder. These devices can help you get through it.
When you are experiencing an ankylosing spondylitis (AS) flare, your normal life can screech to a painful halt. Although the symptoms of each person with AS are different, flares take a huge toll physically and emotionally.
During a flare-up, there are many gadgets, devices, and other items to make your day-to-day life more manageable and ease pain. What works for you will depend on your symptoms, lifestyle, home, work, and family needs.
“Before You Buy” Tips
Because everyone experiences ankylosing spondylitis symptoms differently, the severity and impact of flares can differ as well. The tools that will help you most are unique to your situation, so talk with an occupational therapist (OT) to assess what your needs may be during a flare in order to curate the best options for you.
Also, try to keep an open mind when trying out assistive devices. Even with an occupational therapist’s help, only you will be able to determine whether a particular gadget or device is actually useful. The good news: There are plenty to choose from. Keep trying until you find the right devices for your needs. These are some options to consider.
With the tools here, you’ll be able to get yourself from point A to point B a little easier (or at least, with a little less pain). For some, accepting the use of a mobility aid is a mental hurdle. Just remind yourself that you may not need the device all the time—but it’s good to have for those moments when you do.
Walker With Wheels
Although canes and crutches may seem less obtrusive, they also pose a greater risk of falls and more fatigue than a walker. A walker with wheels and a seat is a much better option to prevent a fall and extra fatigue during a flare. You can stop and sit when you need to rest, and the wheels require only a push. Add a basket to the front to help carry needed items with you. The stigma surrounding walkers is a major factor in preventing the use of this necessary device. Talk with your OT and possibly a mental health professional if you are hesitant to explore this option.
AS can affect more than just joints and cause pain in other areas of the body. The arches and heels of the feet are commonly affected, according to the Spondylitis Association of America. Pain in this area, known as plantar fasciitis, is caused by inflammation in the connective tissue on the bottom of your foot. This inflammation can become worse during a flare, but a variety of devices can help ease your discomfort. Custom orthotics can provide support to take stress off your arches. Shoe inserts may help, as can compression socks designed specifically for plantar fasciitis.
Splints and Braces
A brace or splint may help ease tension on your arms and legs. Custom splints can be made as well. Consult your OT before choosing splints and braces, as there are many types and your OT can make the best recommendation for your individual needs.
Gadgets and Tools for Everyday Tasks
During an AS flare, the simple act of bending over to tie your shoe can cause serious pain. The gadgets here can help make navigating daily tasks a little easier.
When it’s difficult or impossible to bend over, getting dressed is a monumental task. Items like sock aid devices allow you to pull up your socks, extended shoe horns help you slip your feet into shoes without bending, and elastic self-tying shoelaces mean you can slide your feet into your sneakers without ever having to make a bow or a knot. Button hooks and zipper pulls also make getting dressed much easier.
There are many types of this handy tool that can help take the torture out of bending over to pick up a remote, phone, or anything that requires bending, or reaching up high to grab an object. Take it with you if you leave the house, or carry a spare in the car and leave one at the office, as they are reasonably priced. You may find it indispensable at places like the grocery store if you need to grab an item up high or down low.
Clever kitchen tools can help reduce the pain and frustration of meal time: openers for jars and bottles (manual and electric), electric knives, electric peelers, food choppers, special flatware for eating (including long-handled, weighted, soft grip, offset , and more), cookware, cleaning utensils, cutting devices, and dishes that allow you to easily push food onto your fork or spoon (plates, bowls, cups and more).
Looking sideways can cause pain, and extra-wide side-view mirrors for your car can help alleviate pain by not requiring you to turn your head as much, as they allow you to see at all angles. Check with your state first to be sure that these mirrors are legal. However, if you are unable to turn your head at all, talk to your doctor about whether it’s time to stop driving, as it is no longer safe. A portable support grab bar can support you getting in and out of a vehicle, along with a car seat buckle release aid, and ergonomic key holders, if needed.
Lightweight Cleaning Devices
If you can’t delegate housework during an AS flare-up, lightweight cleaning tools with extendable handles and no cords can make light cleaning easier and less fatiguing, such as a lightweight, cordless vacuum cleaner (or better, a robotic floor vacuum controlled from your phone). Robotic floor mops are also available.
Pain Relief Tools
Your doctor will work with you to find medications that make your ankylosing spondylitis easier to manage. But during a flare, these DIY home hacks may also help you keep an upper hand on pain management.
Heat therapy fights joint stiffness and can relieve pain. There are many types of heating pads available, from microwavable pillows to electric heating pads for the back, neck, and other joints. Reusable small heat pouches are perfect for on-the-go use. You can even use a Velcro strap, such as a Velcro arm band that holds smartphones, to secure them to your body. Keep small reusable pouches in your car, at work, or anywhere you travel frequently. Microwavable therapy mittens provide moist heat relief for hands and wrists.
Salonpas, Icy Hot, and other over-the-counter patches offer relief to some AS sufferers, and are easily transportable. Keep patches in your car, work desk, purse, travel bags, and around the house, in a few different places so you don’t have to go far to get them. Patches come in a variety of sizes.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
Ask your OT, physical therapist, or doctor about a TENS unit to help manage flare pain. TENS is thought to work by blocking the nerve signals to the brain. Although it has not been scientifically proven to be effective, it is safe to use with proper instruction. Follow your doctor’s advice if considering this option.
Some people with AS are sensitive to light during a flare. If photosensitivity is a painful problem, put on an eye mask to block light until your pain medication takes effect. If your eyes are still sensitive, try dark wraparound sunglasses, like those used for cataract surgery patients.
Hand and Foot Massagers
Place painful hands and feet in these devices for a gentle massage. Compression gloves also help with hand and wrist pain. Fingerless options are available.
Devices for Home and Office
Whether you’re sitting at your desk or your dining room table, there are ways to make yourself a little more comfortable during an AS flare, starting with these gadgets.
This tool allows you to achieve the rest you need during a flare without laying on your back 24/7. A soft and sturdy backrest allows you to sit up in bed. A proper one will also offer support for your back and your arms. You may find different types of backrests work better than others depending on where you are placing them (bed, sofa, dining chair).
Raised seats and well-placed cushions help ease the pain and difficulty of sitting and standing during a flare. Try one in an often-used place, like the toilet. If it works well for you, consider options for other places like your work chair, wherever you sit to relax (sofa or armchair), and a seat at the dining table.
Bath and Shower Accessories
The shower and bath pose extra risk of injury at all times, but especially during a flare. You’ll need to support your weight when getting in and out of the shower, and a regular towel bar is not designed to do that. You may also want to sit while showering or bathing. Adding handrails designed for medical assistance and a bathing chair to sit on not only makes bathing easier, but also takes pressure off your joints and helps prevent the risk of falls.
Electric bidet seats are an investment (there is a wide price range depending on options), but for some people with AS, a bidet may well be worth the cost. With options like heated seats, air drying, and back and front cleaning for women, a bidet can take care of most toileting needs without you having to turn, bend, or twist. For those without a bidet, a long-handled toilet wiping aid can assist you in cleaning up after you use the toilet.
Fatigue hits hard during an AS flare, so having a chair that can recline where you are, instead of you traveling to a place to rest, is key. An office chair is one of the best places to have a reclining chair, allowing you to rest and nap when needed.
These ergonomic wonders give you the ability to work in an upright position. A stand/lean stool reduces back strain and fatigue by supporting and stabilizing your body in a standing position while most of your weight rests on a padded seat.
These silicone grips placed over doorknobs make opening doors much easier on stressed hands and wrists. They are also inexpensive, so you can place one on every knob in the house.
Prepared Frozen Meals
Mealtime is a major issue during a flare, from prep to cooking to eating and cleaning up. Make mealtime easier and avoid cooking during a flare by always having a few premade (homemade or store-bought) meals in the freezer.
Be Prepared for AS Flares
The frustrating reality of living with chronic disease is that flares are going to happen—even when your condition is generally well-controlled. Knowing the signs for when one is coming and having assistive devices in place to help you get through it will help you both mentally and physically. You will gain more control over your life and help you get through your flares with less pain and fatigue.
Set up a time to talk about your flares with your occupational therapist or rheumatologist to start acquiring the best tools for you.