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Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a rare type of arthritis that can cause pain and stiffness in your spine as well as other areas of your body, such as your hips, peripheral joints, chest, and buttocks.

The symptoms of this inflammatory disease can affect your ability to work, especially if you sit or stand for long periods of time.

Working with AS can be challenging, but it is usually possible. Here’s how to work with AS, what resources are available to you, and smart adjustments you can make in your workspace for maximum comfort every day on the job.

Yes, in most cases you can work with AS. It just takes a bit of navigation (and a dash of patience) to make adjustments for your comfort and create a work environment that’s right for you.

It’s also important to understand how AS can potentially impact you on the job.

AS can affect your ability to work in a number of ways. The condition can cause pain and stiffness in your lower back and hips, which can become worse if you’re sitting for a long period of time, such as sitting at a desk for several hours.

It can also cause neck pain and fatigue. Long shift work, such as working at a hospital, may make this fatigue worse. Standing on your feet in one place for extended periods, as while teaching or styling hair, can also cause symptoms to flare up.

While many of these issues may be addressed with modifications, there are limitations. If your job has intense physical demands, requires heavy lifting, or includes repetitive, full-body movements, you may find yourself unable to complete required tasks.

Managing your AS may also involve additional doctor visits or result in missed workdays for other reasons.

According to an older 2001 Dutch study of 709 individuals ages 16 to 60 who had AS, those with a paid job lost 5 percent of workdays as a result of their condition. This equals about 10 days of sick leave per year in addition to the national average of 12.3 days of unspecified sick leave.

Another study from 2014 that looked at 88 people living with AS found that there was a correlation between missing work and scores on the Bath Ankylosing Spondylitis Disease Activity Index (BASDAI), which measures disease activity.

It’s no secret that AS can add challenges to your workday. It’s important to track your symptoms and modify your work as needed — or stay home to rest when possible on particularly painful days.

Fortunately, many employers will work with you to establish a positive working environment. Additionally, there are some protections in place for people managing chronic health conditions.

The modifications that make working with AS easier will depend on the kind of work you do. What follows are suggestions for creating a more comfortable and less painful workspace or work environment.

Practice good posture by avoiding working or sitting in a hunched position

If your company provides a desk chair, consider requesting one with ergonomic features or adding a lumbar support cushion or other accessories to increase your comfort.

Your elbows should be able to rest on the top of your desk to reach your keyboard. Sit straight in the chair with your feet flat on the floor.

Alternatively, you could experiment with using a standing desk for all or part of the workday.

Keep supplies and other items at arm’s length and within easy reach

When possible, arrange your desk so that the items you use most frequently are easily accessible. If you’re working in a shared space, consider speaking with your manager about ways to adjust the organization of items for your comfort.

Elevate your monitor or laptop screen to eye level

Ideally, the top of your screen should be at eye level so that you don’t have to look down to view it. You can use risers designed to elevate your laptop or simply use a stack of books or paper stacks if necessary.

Consider the best way to get to and from the job

If you’re driving, do you need disability parking? Is public transportation an option? Is it possible to walk to work? Figuring out which way to get there and home works best for you can help set the tone for the rest of the day.

Take regular breaks that include movement

You can try going for short walks or doing gentle stretching throughout the day. Set a reminder timer if needed to be sure you’re moving frequently enough.

Incorporate a healthy diet and hydration into your day

Consider snacking on some foods known to reduce inflammation, such as:

  • berries
  • cherries
  • avocados
  • broccoli
  • Asian mushrooms, like shiitake and maitake
  • hummus
  • nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and pumpkin seeds
  • dark chocolate in moderation

It’s a good idea to drink water throughout the day. You can experiment with adding fruit to your water for flavoring or drinking sparkling water for variety.

Create an activity log to identify any pain points or symptom triggers

You can keep your activity log in a notebook or your phone’s notes app. Jot down exactly what you’re doing when you notice symptoms. Review your log entries to find patterns of pain or symptom triggers. If you note a consistent trouble area, schedule a time to speak with your employer about possible ways to address it.

Work with your colleagues, managers, or HR department

You’re not obligated to share any health information with others at work. However, you may find that informing them of your needs and limitations allows for better communication.

Determine whether your job is the right fit for you

If your job just doesn’t work with AS — or is too physically demanding — you may want to consider looking for a new position, either with your current employer or elsewhere.

You can also consider switching to a remote-only role, which may be more comfortable than working in an office or onsite setting.

Sometimes, a total career change is best, especially if your industry creates difficult working conditions for AS. You can research online or speak with a career counselor to determine if there are other roles that require fewer physical demands.

Work with an occupational or physical therapist (or both)

An occupational therapist can work with you to determine the best methods and tools to increase your comfort when completing daily tasks.

They can evaluate and suggest modifications to your workspace. They may also offer tips on exercises or routines that can increase your strength and minimize discomfort due to AS symptoms.

Occupational therapists help people overcome barriers that affect emotional, social, and physical needs, so it can be particularly useful for both your physical and mental health.

Most insurance plans include coverage for this type of therapy, so it’s worth exploring your options. You can ask your rheumatologist or primary care doctor for recommendations.

Physical therapists can also help you with exercises to work on posture, stretching, and range of motion.

Take time off as needed to rest and recover

It’s also important to take time to schedule any necessary doctor visits or therapies that support your health.

While it may take some time and effort, you can take numerous steps to support yourself at work if you’ve been diagnosed with AS.

The biggest thing to remember is that you’re not alone if you have any concerns. About 300,000 Americans have AS — meaning that thousands of people out there are potentially feeling the impact of their condition at work.

You can build connections with others having the same experiences through AS support groups, which you can find online or through local hospitals or medical centers.

You can also find information and connection through organizations like the Spondylitis Association of America and the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society.

If you work at a larger company, you’ll also likely have access to HR staff, who can help you navigate any concerns and make adjustments to your role to fit your needs.

If AS pain is keeping you from working, you may be eligible for disability benefits as well.

At the end of the day, your health comes first, so it’s important to do what’s best for you.

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