The clothes that aggravate my AS pain and stiffness

Why I prioritize comfortable clothing in life with ankylosing spondylitis

Jemma Newman avatar

by Jemma Newman |

Share this article:

Share article via email
banner image for Jemma Newman's column

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.

Recommended Reading
ankylosing spondylitis diet | Ankylosing Spondylitis News | Banner for Janneke Phung's column,

How a painful costochondritis flare led to my AS diagnosis

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.

Note: Ankylosing Spondylitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ankylosing Spondylitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ankylosing spondylitis.


Emily avatar


Yes!! I relate to this so much. I see able-bodied women wearing lots of LuluLemon and expensive leggings that look really nice, but wearing leggings causes so much SI and hip pain that I simply can't wear them 95% of the time. Luckily I have found that flowy pants with a stretchy waist band can still look put together if you buy them in nice fabrics. I am happy to work from home so I can wear sweatpants most of the time :)

Jemma Newman avatar

Jemma Newman

Ooooh I do love lululemon! I've personally found the structured fabrics with lots of seams or double-layered waistbands too much but I like the soft yoga fabric. Flowy pants sound great, I need to find some of those! Haha yes and you can't go past a good pair of sweatpants.Really appreciate you sharing what works for you Emily, I love hearing from other people!

George avatar


When the body is stiff and putting on clothes is difficult, for sure AS is kicking in. For a long time I had to write off many problems to apparent fibromyalgia due to their mysterious nature. I do not anymore. You're lucky if you don't have major allergy problems too. Of course it's possible for people to have serious or just recurring annoying "discomfortments" (instant trademark) not related to AS, but like you, I think much of ours is part of having AS. I think whoever invented the tie should have been hanged. :) I moved away from jeans but brought them back after carefully selecting softer best fitting ones. I add dye in the washer and let them soak long before washing so the old most comfortable stay nice. Still, when I get home, the jeans, shoes, and socks are off immediately.

Jemma Newman avatar

Jemma Newman

As always with your comments George, you are so insightful. When you mentioned allergies I immediately thought of my husband who had massive sneezing fits - as in 60 sneezes in a row for example - when his AS was getting bad. Your lovely soft jeans sound great, what a good idea to give the comfy ones extra life with dye.

Jack Rentfro avatar

Jack Rentfro

Albeit of the male persuasion, I definitely relate to the way clothing can exacerbate AS pain. I'm almost 70 and have dealt with this since my late teens. I inherited this condition from my father who had a habit of wearing sweat pants around the house back in the '60s before this was common 'at home/during the day' wear. Before I was declared 'disabled,' I dreaded going to the office wearing a coat and tie--hated having ANYTHING around my neck. Now I'm able to wear sweatpants and baggy jerseys all the time and don't care if I look like a slob! As a friend with RA told me years ago, having arthritis is like being a schoolboy with "a note from home." I'll present that note to anyone who needs to see it, too.

Jemma Newman avatar

Jemma Newman

Honestly Jack I completely agree with you, whoever invented stiff suits as something to wear all day was a sucker for punishment - why does anyone want to have a tight neckband? Being comfy isn't the same as being a slob, it's being smart :) Sorry to hear you've had AS since your teens, you must have seen lots of changes in how the disease is managed in that time (and figured out other handy places to use a "note from home"). Great to hear from you in the comments, I'm always so interested to hear how different people live with AS.


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.