Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) symptoms can affect you no matter where you are — even at home, where it can make tasks such as cleaning, cooking, and bathing more difficult.
AS is a form of arthritis that causes inflammation in the joints and ligaments of the spine, resulting in back pain. “Typically, when people with AS wake up in the morning, they have morning stiffness and pain, especially in the lower back,” says Orrin Troum, MD, a rheumatologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Although morning stiffness can improve as the day goes on, you may still experience back pain, as well as other symptoms. As AS progresses, it’s possible to develop peripheral arthritis in surrounding areas of the body, such as your hips, knees, and ankles, which can also become swollen and inflamed.
“Let’s say somebody wanted to pick something up very quickly, and they’ve had spondylitis for a long time and their back doesn’t bend. That can throw off somebody’s balance, too,” says Dr. Troum.
Despite these challenges, your home should be a place of convenience, comfort, and safety. And it can be, with the right strategies.
To start, keep your walkways clear of clutter as much as possible, and place anything that you don’t need often in cabinets, in drawers, or on shelves, says Brittany Ferri, PhD, , an occupational therapist (OT) and adviser at Medical Solutions BCN in Rochester, New York. “Also, ensure all wires are secured and safely stored where no one can trip on them,” Dr. Ferri adds. Rather than holding on to furniture when walking around, use assistive devices, and keep items you use frequently within arm’s reach.
Here are more tips that can make every room in your house more comfortable.
Bedroom Modification Tips
- Consider buying an adjustable bed, which you can raise or lower as needed. “You might get an adjustable hospital bed, or your bed should come with bed bars and nearby grab bars to help you pull yourself up from laying down,” says Ferri. Bea Caillet, 40, a food blogger in Paris, France, has lived with AS since she was young. “I bought an adjustable bed in order to be able to raise my feet up a little bit to ease the pain in my lower back,” Caillet says. “The adjustable bed and an excellent mattress were a big investment and worth every penny.”
- Change up your mattress. Troum suggests getting a firm (but not stiff) mattress and replacing it every 10 years so it doesn’t sag in the middle.
- Add more pillows to your bed. Rather than purchasing one type of pillow, go for an assortment. “Pillows should be a mix of firm and soft to allow for sufficient support and comfort,” says Ferri.
- Keep a heating pad next to your bed. Applying heat to your back for 15 to 20 minutes before getting out of bed might help ease morning stiffness. “Heat helps, whether it be by the shower or by heating pad,” says Troum.
Bathroom Modification Tips
- Use a walk-in shower. If possible, opt for a walk-in shower instead of a bathtub, bath with a whirlpool can be useful for heat therapy to ease pain. “When I renovated my apartment, I made sure to have both a bath and a shower, in order to be able to take whichever suited me, according to my condition,” says Caillet. “I can’t live without a hot Epsom salt bath whenever I’m in pain or just need to relax. But a shower is much more convenient and painless to wash my hair without bending over.”
- Use a nonslip mat. Put one in the tub and another just outside the tub to prevent falls.
- Keep a mop in the bathroom. “Absorbent mops will help get rid of pooled water in the bathroom that can pose a fall risk,” says Ferri.
Kitchen Modification Tips
- Put a standing mat (called an anti-fatigue mat) on the floor. This can help reduce the strain from too much standing.
- Keep pots and pans within easy reach. Or use a grabber or another device to get items that are farther away.
- Keep a chair nearby. This will help minimize standing and bending for long periods. “In my kitchen I make sure that I can sit, if needed, when I am peeling and preparing my food,” says Caillet.
Living Room Modification Tips
- Opt for furniture that’s tall rather than lower to the ground. “Couches and chairs that are firm and high will be easier to get on and off of,” says Ferri. Keep a mix of lighter and heavier pillows handy, as well.
- Put nonslip mats under rugs or carpets that are not secure. This will help prevent slips and falls.
- Have more than one place to sit. Customize the room so you don’t have to stay in the same position all the time. “In my living room, I have a comfortable couch and an ottoman to put my feet up,” says Caillet. “I put my TV on a rotative stand so that I can put my TV screen perfectly in front of me wherever I’m seated, since I can’t stay long with my head turned on a particular side.”
Home Office Modification Tips
- Set up an ergonomic workstation. If you have a job where you have to sit in front of a computer all day, “You should have an ergonomic evaluation by a physical therapist or an occupational therapist to help you put the computer at eye level and not have to end your head down,” says Troum.
- Invest in a good work chair. A physical therapist (PT) or OT can also advise you on an appropriate chair so you have sufficient lumbar support for good posture and make sure you’re using the keyboard mouse properly.
To find a PT or OT who can help you with your home office and all other aspects of your home, talk to your rheumatologist or primary care physician. You can also look for a certified aging-in-place specialist (CAPS) who can help with home modifications.