Mobility Devices for Ankylosing Spondylitis: What You Should Know | MySpondylitisTeam

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Mobility Devices for Ankylosing Spondylitis: What You Should Know

Medically reviewed by Zeba Faroqui, M.D.
Posted on September 8, 2023

“I have a lot of back pain, and it scares me that my spondylitis is going to make me wheelchair-bound,” wrote a member of MySpondylitisTeam. Many people with ankylosing spondylitis worry about what the future holds if their condition progresses. However, hearing from those who maintain their independence and quality of life with the help of mobility devices may help shift your perspective.

Mobility devices like walkers, canes, and wheelchairs offer varying levels of support and stability. They can both help you accomplish daily tasks and provide pain relief. If your range of motion has decreased or you struggle to stand for a long period of time, here are some common mobility devices to consider, along with tips for exploring your options.

Walkers

These widely used mobility devices provide stability and support for people with limited mobility due to conditions like ankylosing spondylitis. Walkers come in different designs, but all types aim to help you maintain balance and reduce the risk of falls while allowing you to get regular exercise. Walkers may support up to half your body weight.

Traditional walkers have a sturdy frame with four legs, offering equal stability and support on all sides. You can also find wheeled walkers, known as rollators.

Walkers can be beneficial for people with ankylosing spondylitis because they can help prevent injury. They’re particularly useful for those who have stiffness or trouble maintaining balance. Focusing on the safety benefits of using a walker may help you overcome social stigmas or other concerns about image.

Standard Walkers

The most basic walker design provides all-around stability and support. Standard walkers are ideal for people who need significant balance assistance. Since this type doesn’t have wheels, you’ll need to pick it up to move it.

Rollator Walkers

Rollators with wheels on the front legs and hand brakes (for more control) are more maneuverable than standard walkers. They also require less energy because you don’t need to pick them up as you go. One MySpondylitisTeam member described their rollator as “basically a walker with wheels, but it also has a seat on it so you can sit if you need to rest.”

“Rollators can make such a difference in keeping you mobile and independent,” shared another member, who also offered tips for getting one more cheaply: “You can find them in almost all pharmacies. Purchase them outright or with a prescription from your doctor. Check to have your insurance pay for part of or all of the price,” they suggested. “There are many types — cheap to deluxe, sturdy frames, thick seats, extensive braking systems, backward standing, etc. Pharmacies may have sales, and people do donate them to organizations when a loved one passes away.”

Canes

Using a cane distributes your weight more evenly to reduce strain on the spine and joints. Canes can support up to 25 percent of your body weight, according to the Health in Aging Foundation. Some people use canes and walkers interchangeably. “I have terrible weakness in my legs,” said a MySpondylitisTeam member. “I can no longer take more than two or three steps and must rely on a cane or rollator. I have extreme difficulty on stairs, especially going down!”

Another said they bring their cane when their walker doesn’t fit in a car. “My walker helps me more than my cane. But my mother-in-law never has room for it … so I end up using my cane.”

Canes are relatively easy to use and can make a significant difference in mobility. They promote a more natural gait and reduce the load on the spine and pain in joints. When considering canes, it’s crucial to choose the right type and ensure proper fit, as an ill-fitting cane can be inefficient or cause discomfort.

Standard Single-Point Canes

The most common type of cane features a single point of contact with the ground to help improve balance and stability while walking. One MySpondylitisTeam member shared, “A couple of months ago, I had a friend give me a cane. I’m using it now, and when others see it, they know I may need help.”

Quad Canes

The four-point base of a quad cane offers increased stability. Quad canes are particularly useful if you require more support and balance assistance.

Wheelchairs

Wheelchairs are valuable mobility devices that you can use occasionally or every day, depending on your needs.

One MySpondylitisTeam member shared how a wheelchair makes it possible to do yardwork: “I got two acres mowed from my wheelchair. I’m off to load up and mow the other house from my wheelchair. If anyone thinks I cannot handle my rentals while being paralyzed from the waist down, think again.”

Another member explained how a wheelchair gave them a new lease on life. “Since going full time to a wheelchair, I have more stamina,” they said. “I just finished a cruise to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I met up with a person from another medical website. We had a great day.”

Wheelchairs provide a higher level of independence for people with ankylosing spondylitis who may have difficulty walking longer distances or standing for extended periods. If you need help managing fatigue, a wheelchair lets you save energy and experience less pain after a grueling activity like landscaping.

Manual Wheelchairs

Manual wheelchairs are propelled by the user or a caregiver, offering a good balance of control and exercise. This type is suitable for people with enough upper-body strength to maneuver the wheelchair or who have a family member or helper available.

Powered Wheelchairs

Powered wheelchairs are controlled using a joystick or other electronic methods. They require less effort, so they’re ideal for people with more significant mobility impairments. You can also consider electric scooters for similar support with different designs and steering options.

Moving Forward With Mobility Devices

If you’re unsure about using mobility devices, it’s important to remember that they can help prevent falls, fractures, and joint damage. Whether you’re using a mobility aid temporarily — for instance, while recovering from spine surgery — or permanently, these devices can offer pain management without medication. Health care providers and specialists can help you find solutions to support your activities of daily living.

“I had a wonderful new physical therapist today,” shared a MySpondylitisTeam member. “She adjusted all of my assistive devices (cane, walker) to a more natural lower level, and I noticed a change in my gait immediately! She also showed me how to scoot to the edge of a chair before trying to get up. What a difference it made in controlling my balance and reducing pain. These are my breakthroughs today. It’s been a productive morning! 😃❤️”

Occupational and physical therapists can assess your mobility, suggest the most suitable devices, and offer training on how to use and adjust them. Sometimes it just takes small fixes like custom orthotics to improve your gait. In addition, home modifications such as handrails, grabbers, and raised toilet seats can make your environment safer and more accessible. Taking advantage of the medical advice and resources available can help you live life on your terms.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MySpondylitisTeam is the social network for people with spondylitis and their loved ones. On MySpondylitisTeam, more than 93,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with spondylitis.

Have you met with an occupational therapist to explore assistive devices? What types of mobility aids and gadgets have you tried? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on September 8, 2023
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Zeba Faroqui, M.D. earned her medical degree from the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine. Learn more about her here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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