Sit / stand desk

Key to managing Ankylosing Spondylitis in a work environment is to find some good, healthy, spine-neutral postures, and keep moving between them throughout the day to keep your joints moving and stave off stiffness and pain. Ergonomics is not about finding one perfect posture - it's about allowing movement and flexibility between postures.

Perhaps the single best piece of equipment you can buy (or better, ask your employer to buy - see Talking to your Employer) to help you do this is a sit / stand desk.

A sit / stand desk is designed to let you sit or stand at your desk, and easily switch between the two. My favourite is the one pictured (a Kangaroo Pro Junior). It's free-standing so is much cheaper than a whole-desk solution (where the entire desk is purpose built and fitted with a motorised lifting mechanism), easy to install (it simply sits on top of a regular desk) and has a pneumatic piston which makes everything weight-neutral - this means you can easily lift or lower the desk and / or screen one-handed with little effort, even if they're heavy. It also has an independent lift for the screen height, so it can be adjusted so that everything is just right (your elbows at 90 degrees, your eyes looking straight ahead to the top third of your computer screen).

Laptop docking station / separate screen

dockingstation

Laptops are everywhere these days, and they all suffer from one huge ergonomic design flaw - they keyboard is physically attached to the screen. This means you always end up peering downwards at the screen, craning your neck and arching your back in a poor posture, especially if you have AS.

The solution? A docking station, allowing you to easily and quickly attach and detach a separate screen, keyboard and mouse to your laptop. Yes, you can plug these things in individually without a dock, but this usually means plugging in at least 4 leads (power, monitor, keyboard, mouse) - if you have to do this often, chances are you might get sick of it and not bother! Most are relatively cheap, so ask your employer for one at work (see Talking to your Employer).

With a separate screen, keyboard and mouse, you can arrange them to fit ergonomically (top third of your screen at eye height, elbows at 90 degrees, neutral spine position).

You may also see laptop risers (designed to hold your laptop up at an angle to raise the height of the laptop screen), but the ones I've tried don't raise the screen high enough to be at eye-level.

Free-tilt ergonomic chair

hagcapisco

Ever realised that you've been locked in one position at a desk for too long and you've seized up? Regular, gentle movement is key to managing stiffness and pain when working at a desk with Ankylosing Spondylitis.

This is why an ergonomic chair can be cost effective, despite the hefty price tag usually attached. Weighed against lost time at work due to pain and stiffness, it can effectively pay for itself - remember this when asking your employer about workplace adjustments (see Talking to your Employer).

Look for these important features:

  • Weight-adjustable free-tilt: this allows the seat to tilt gently back and forwards, creating movement in your hips and lower back. This should be weight adjustable (look for a dial or knob) so you can adjust the tilt mechanism for your weight. You should also be able to lock the tilt into position. This is quite a rare feature, but well worth looking for.
  • Lumbar support and height adjustable back: a lumbar support is essential to maintain that neutral S-shape in your spine. The back of the chair should be height adjustable so you can align the lumbar support according to your height.
  • Adjustable back tilt: allowing you to change the angle of the seat back
  • Adjustable seat depth: allowing you to adjust how 'long' the seat is according to the length of your leg, so it supports your entire thigh up to the knee
  • Height adjustable to almost-standing: if you're using a sit-stand desk (see above), try to get a chair with an extra-high seat lift, allowing you to change between sitting and a perching position (where you are almost standing, with your backside leaning slightly on the seat). This works particularly well if the chair has a saddle-shape seat, like the one pictured (a Hag Capisco). This will give you an additional good posture to shift into when you start to stiffen up.

Desk exercises

Many of your regular stretches can be done at your desk (you have a regular stretching routine right? If not, ask a physiotherapist to recommend some, check out my own stretching routine, or visit the work section of the NASS website).

You might feel a self conscious to begin with doing these in an open-plan or shared office with other people around, but don't let that put you off. The best remedy is to let people around you know that you'll be doing a range of stretches through the day to help your back, and try to have a laugh about it - pull some funny faces while you're stretching if that helps! People will quickly get used to it. 

A place to stretch

stretch

If there's a small quiet room at work somewhere big enough to lie down in, talk to your employer about possibly using it for 10-20 minutes each day to do some stretches in relative privacy, perhaps at lunchtime. A small yoga mat and folded towel for your head is all you need for a thorough stretch-out. If this isn't possible, consider a short walk instead to loosen those joints.