Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a form of inflammatory arthritis that can cause mild to debilitating pain and stiffness, often in the spine. Assistive devices can help improve a person’s quality of life and increase their independence.

Over time, AS can cause the bones of the lower spine to fuse together. When this occurs, it can cause additional pain, stiffness, and issues with range of motion.

Assistive devices come in many forms and can help people with AS in a variety of ways, such as by providing pain relief and making everyday tasks easier.

This article reviews various assistive devices that people with AS may find helpful.

Medical devices are assistive devices that provide help in completing a specific therapeutic function. Medical professionals sometimes refer to them as durable medical equipment (DME).

Some DMEs that may help a person with AS are:

  • walkers or canes to assist in movement
  • braces or splints
  • custom orthotics

Because these devices help provide care, Medicare Part B and most private insurance companies will cover at least some of the costs.

To qualify for Medicare, a medical device needs to:

  • be durable enough to withstand repeated use
  • last at least 3 years
  • not generally work or be helpful for people who are not sick or injured
  • be used for medical reasons in the home

A person who needs payment assistance from Medicare or insurance should contact their coverage provider to make sure the provider covers the device they are considering.

Some tools and devices can help a person complete daily living tasks. While these typically do not qualify as DMEs, they can help a person maintain their independence and improve their overall quality of life.

Here are some examples of handy tools to keep around the house, car, and office:

  • Grabber-reachers: These simple devices allow a person to reach and grab items that are either up high or on the floor, limiting the amount a person needs to move to get the objects.
  • Zipper grips: A zipper grip attaches to the pull portion of a zipper and makes it easier to grab and pull a zipper when getting dressed or undressed.
  • Faucet grips/levers: Installing longer or larger levers on faucets can make accessing water easier.
  • Shoehorns: These limit the need to bend to put on shoes. Slip-on shoes may also help reduce bending.
  • Automatic pet feeders and waterers: These tools provide cats, dogs, and other pets with regular food and water and reduce the need to bend or lift heavy objects.
  • Electric openers: Electric can and bottle openers can assist people in removing lids and caps.
  • Tub or shower bars: These devices either attach or suction to the bathroom wall and provide help getting in and out of the tub or shower.
  • Car accessories: Wider mirrors, lumbar spine support pillows, support bars, steering assist knobs, and seatbelt bucklers can all help when driving or riding in a car.

Devices can allow for general improvements around the office to help a person with AS. These devices can help a person complete everyday tasks, help them feel more comfortable at work, or generally increase their independence.

A person may be able to work with a physical therapist (PT), occupational therapist (OT), or vocational rehabilitation specialist to set up their workspace to best suit their needs.

Some devices that may be helpful around the office are:

  • Standing desks: Having the option to stand while working may alleviate discomfort.
  • Padded floor mats: When a person is using a standing desk or working a job in which they need to stand in one place for a long time, these can reduce leg pain and increase comfort.
  • Laptop risers: If using a laptop, a person can use a riser to position the screen to avoid neck strain from looking down.
  • Ergonomic chairs: In the office, a chair with proper lumbar support and other special features can make sitting more comfortable.

Pain management can play an important role in AS treatment. A doctor may prescribe pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but these may not provide sufficient relief on their own.

Assistive devices may help reduce a person’s pain by providing heat or cold therapy to the affected joints. While these devices should not take the place of prescribed medications, they may provide additional relief.

The following are a few devices a person may find helpful to reduce pain or stiffness:

  • Heating pads: Heating pads provide targeted heat therapy to joints and muscles. They come in a variety of sizes, from small to large.
  • Massagers: A personal massaging device can provide some relief to stiff or sore muscles.
  • Heat patches: Heat patches provide heat to a specific area of the body for a short time and often attach directly to the skin.

The list of potential assistive devices can be quite long and extensive. Assistive devices can be helpful all around the house, in the office, and while a person is out and about.

Before purchasing or deciding on a device, a person should take into account the following tips.

Talk with a PT or OT

A PT/OT can help a person decide which type of device they may find most helpful to have at home, in their workplace, or in other areas they may visit. A PT/OT may be able to provide additional suggestions of good products to try.

Working with a PT/OT can help improve overall treatment outcomes when the therapist is part of a multifaceted approach to therapy.

Do the research

Some devices may not work as well as others. A person should consider looking at independent reviews of any device they are considering purchasing and the company that sells it.

Reviews can often provide insight into how well a device works, its durability, its usefulness, and the customers’ overall impression of the company.

Pick devices based on lifestyle and needs

Just because a device exists to help with AS does not mean that the device will be a good fit for every person. For example, a person may not find a use for car accessories because they do not drive.

Assistive devices for AS can help improve quality of life, reduce pain or stiffness, improve or prolong independence, and help with everyday tasks. While not all devices qualify as DMEs, many provide low cost or easy-to-find solutions to potential issues.

Before selecting devices or outfitting a home with new gadgets, a person should consider working with a PT or OT to determine the best options for their needs. A PT/OT may be able to provide recommendations of brands to use or devices that might work best.