The clothes that aggravate my AS pain and stiffness
Why I prioritize comfortable clothing in life with ankylosing spondylitis
You’d think that because ankylosing spondylitis (AS) affects joints internally, clothes wouldn’t make much difference. But I despise certain garments when I’m having an AS flare and my sacroiliac joints, spine, or rib cage are inflamed and painful.
Picture for a minute that I’m standing at the kitchen sink, bent over at the waist, and scrubbing furiously at burnt-on quiche stuck all over the inside of a baking dish. The bench beside me is piled with dirty dishes, saucepans, drink bottles, and the other kitchen paraphernalia of a busy family.
My stiff lower back is already in serious discomfort from bending forward for a prolonged period of time. Picking up each heavy pot feels like I’m being sawed in half at the point where my spine joints my pelvis. But what’s making me grit my teeth harder with each passing second is my rib pain, made worse by one specific item of clothing.
The item that makes my ribs burn
When I was diagnosed with AS, the symptom that bothered me most was acute pain at the point where my ribs attach to my spine in the center of my back, which is called the thoracic spine. One piece of clothing in particular exacerbates this rib pain. Gents, sorry you might not relate, but wearing a bra seemed to escalate the slow burn of AS into the sensation that my spine was being fiercely incinerated in a furnace.
All I could think about as I washed dishes, vacuumed the house, or drove my car was my increasing desperation as I waited for the opportunity to wrench my bra off and turn the dial down on my rib and spine pain. A bra is like a harness that’s built to hug your rib cage, and it’s basically a torture device for women with rib-related AS pain. Even the slightest hint of elastic encircling my ribs made me want to scream in frustration, no matter how loose the straps were.
But my hatred of clothing doesn’t stop with undergarments, oh no.
Jeans are no longer my go-to wardrobe staple
Whoever invented rigid denim jeans clearly didn’t have ankylosing spondylitis. They might look trendy or practical, but thick cotton denim doesn’t have even a whiff of the comfort or stretch my stiff body desperately desires.
When I was in the middle of an AS flare at the beginning of the year, I really struggled to get dressed in the morning. I couldn’t bend forward without my back seizing up in agony, which made lacing up shoes or pulling up pants challenging. Tight jeans were absolutely impossible, and soft billowy clothes that could be easily pulled on were my go-to choice. If I could have lived in my bathrobe, believe me, I would have.
Aside from the difficulty of putting figure-hugging jeans on, thick seams can feel just awful when they chafe or restrict a painful area of your body. If you picture the waistband on any pair of rigid jeans, it has multiple layers of denim with rows and rows of stitching and buttons or a heavy-duty zip at the front. That horrible thick seam sits right across a common AS epicenter of pain: the sacroiliac joints at the bottom of the spine.
If you have wrist or hand pain, as I believe many with AS do, I’m sure tough buttons, clasps, and zips are extremely challenging.
Choosing less restrictive items
Bending over, picking items up, or twisting your back is already difficult enough when you’re experiencing the stiffness and joint pain of AS. I’d never really considered the restrictiveness of many clothes until I had AS, but suddenly I looked at fabric types and fastenings differently.
When I’ve already been hitting my pain threshold day after day, and I’ve been tossing and turning in the wee hours of the night as my AS keeps me awake, I don’t need any extra frustration. Restrictive clothing that makes any movement more difficult is off limits, so I’ve said goodbye to tight sleeves, stiff material, irritating embellishments, thick waistbands, and generally ill-fitting clothing.
These days I choose items that allow for maximum movement without hinderance. I want to be able to sit, stand, crouch, or bend over without feeling restricted. My favorite clothes, which I reach for day after day, all have stretchy material or a degree of adjustability so I can loosen them if needed.
Complaining about clothes might sound silly, I know, but there are so many parts of AS that I can’t control, so I want to prioritize comfort in the items I live in daily.
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