Useful Tools That Help Us Manage AS at Home, Part 1
How this couple manages AS pain and makes their daily life easier
First in a series.
The pain and stiffness of ankylosing spondylitis (AS) ebb and flow like the tide. Some days are calm and relatively pain-free, while others are awash in a crashing wave of joint and muscle pain. My husband, Dave, and I both have AS, and we’ve managed to find several helpful tools and arrange our home in a way that helps us manage this autoimmune disease on a daily basis.
When I was diagnosed with AS at the hospital rheumatology clinic, I felt like I was given very little information on how to actually live with chronic pain. At that point, I would’ve loved to get a sneak peek into the life of someone who was managing their pain and proactively trying to improve their life with AS.
So I thought I’d share the top tools that Dave and I find most helpful in our day-to-day AS management.
Hot and cold packs for pain and stiffness
After a long day of sitting at his desk working, Dave will often use a heat or ice pack to ease the pain in his sacroiliac (SI) joints and back. We use hot and cold in slightly different ways, depending on whether AS has caused joint pain or muscle tightness.
I find that ice packs work better for joint pain or inflammation. If I’m getting a feeling of stabbing needles or burning in my SI joints, an ice pack works wonders. We get small and large cold packs from the local chemist and keep them in the freezer. It’s easy to grab an ice pack, wrap a clean dishcloth around it (to avoid freezer burn on your skin), and pop it right behind the lower back while leaning against a chair or couch. The relief is almost instant.
Heat packs are excellent for reducing stiffness in my back and relaxing tight muscles. Our heat packs are made of fabric bags filled with wheat, which we blast in the microwave until they feel nice and toasty warm. I love using a heat pack between my shoulder blades, by placing it on the couch behind me and leaning against it until my muscles relax. Aah.
Cane for mobility
When Dave was finally diagnosed with AS, his SI joints and hips were so painful that he couldn’t walk. I never thought he’d need a walking stick at age 39, but an AS flare rendered him almost immobile without strong painkillers.
A walking stick, or cane, is a simple but helpful tool that takes some pressure off his hips and improves his stability so that he can move around the house. We purchased ours from a chemist for under $30, and it’s very light and height-adjustable. Even though Dave doesn’t need to use it all the time, we keep it handy.
Back-saving kitchen devices
If you’ve ever tried to cook a family meal amid an ankylosing spondylitis flare, you’ll know how difficult it is. Sometimes I’d be in so much pain after cooking that I barely wanted to eat. Even mild back pain or SI joint pain can make bending over a frying pan, washing a big load of dishes, or standing for a long time very uncomfortable.
The following appliances allow me to cook delicious, healthy food in as little time as possible. Win, win.
Air fryer — This cooks all kinds of delicious meats and vegetables in a fraction of the time they’d take in the oven or frying pan, and with less oil needed. I chose a big air fryer to fit family-sized meals. Plus, they’re quick and easy to clean.
Blender — We use the Nutribullet to make smoothies for breakfast every day. It’s a simple way to get loads of nutrients without effort.
Slow cooker — Throw in some meat and veggies, along with stock and herbs, and come home to a healthy meal that’s taken you only minutes to prepare. What’s not to love?
A firm mattress has improved my back pain enormously. If we sleep in a bed that has too much give or is too soft, I wake up in more pain. Our mattress is slightly soft and padded on the top (so that my joints don’t hurt when lying on it), but it’s still very supportive. Before having AS, I probably would’ve found it too firm, but now I realize just how much a supportive mattress can help keep my spine and hips aligned.
In part two, I’ll share the other useful things around our house that help us manage AS pain. What works for Dave and I might not work for you, but I think it’s important to share real-life strategies to hopefully give others ideas for their own AS journey.
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