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Exercising Despite Ankylosing Spondylitis

Updated on October 23, 2014
Jody Pellerin profile image

Jody Pellerin is a medical technologist and freelance writer with 10 years of experience in medical devices and medical laboratories.

Easing the Hurt

When you have ankylosing spondylitis even the thought of exercising can make your joints throb. The longer you sit, the more it hurts to get up. Next, your muscles turn to mush making the pain worse, if that’s possible.

To avoid becoming a statistic who has fallen and can’t get up, you need to find an exercise program that won’t stress your joints or feel so painful that any excuse to not exercise will do. With the proper exercise, not only will weight control and muscle tone improve, you will feel better overall simply from deep breathing and an endorphin rush.

Ankylosing Spondylitis Is…What Exactly?

AS is one of a spectrum of autoimmune diseases that also includes rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and psoriasis. Specifically, AS involves the sacroiliac joints, the bursa, and the capsule that surrounds the joints. These areas become inflamed and painful with symptoms varying from person to person.

At its worst, AS can cause the vertebrae of the spine to fuse causing a bent posture although few ever get to that point. Some patients may have nothing more than a nagging lower back ache while others suffer periodic flare-ups where hips, shoulders, hands, heels, knees, and other joints become swollen and sore for a period of time. Then the pain slacks off for weeks or months.


The Benefits of Exercise

AS patients need to keep posture at the forefront. With the tendency of the spine to calcify into a nearly straight line, the body needs to have strong muscles to oppose a bent over formation. Flexibility and pain reduction are also achieved with the proper exercise program. If you are carrying extra weight, exercise in combination with a sensible diet will take pounds and stress off your lower limbs and joints.

Mobility, weight loss, and good posture can be maintained by medication, physical therapy, and exercises that pinpoint the parts of the body most affected by the disease.

Water exercise is the most effective for those with AS
Water exercise is the most effective for those with AS | Source

Less Pain, Lots of Gain

Exercise helps keep joints moving more freely; you just need to figure out which types of exercise will do the most good with the least amount of pain. Placing too much stress on a joint as with lifting heavy weights, jogging, or even walking long distances can make the inflammation worse. Slower movements with less weight will keep your muscles toned and strengthen your bones without the painful side effects from your AS.

As always, consult your rheumatologist and/or physical therapist before beginning any exercise regimen.

According to the Spondylitis Association of America low impact activities such as swimming and yoga are perfect for those with painful joints. The most helpful recommendation is to exercise at a good time for you. Stretching will do the most good once your joints are limbered up for the day but by simply making sure to warm up the muscles before further movement will help loosen up the joints and keep you from pulling a muscle.

Postural Exercises

Keeping the spine aligned naturally will keep you from eventually staring at the ground. Sleep on your back or stomach on a firm mattress or lie on the floor and read a book while resting on your elbows or a cushion.

Standing with your back against a wall and executing a series of presses can also alleviate some of the back pain and keep the spine supple.

Yoga postures depend a great deal on posture, balance, and muscle tone. Before practicing an asana, however, engage a knowledgeable yoga instructor who can make sure you are doing the movements correctly. No need to cause further injury through improperly performed poses.

Aerobic Exercises

Exercising in water provides buoyancy to keep weight off the joints while allowing full range of motion. The mild resistance provided by the water also acts as a muscle toner. Aerobic exercise keeps the ribs loose as well so you can breathe deeply without pain. In fact, studies have shown that water exercise is more effective for AS patients than walking for keeping your muscles strong and your heart healthy.

Many gyms and community centers offer water exercise classes created specifically to improve range of motion and aerobic activity. An additional perk is the opportunity to burn calories. If you can get rid of extra body weight your joints will have less strain and pain.

Mind-Body Exercise

Training your mind to listen to your body takes conscious effort. But the better you can interpret the signs and symptoms of AS the better you can target the trouble spots and cope with any limitations. Mind-body exercises include tai chi and qi gong as well as yoga.

Meditation is a good choice for learning focus and giving you a quiet time to listen to your body and determine the best way to nourish it with exercise.

Exercise is probably the last thing on your mind when your ankylosing spondylitis flairs up and your body throbs at every major joint. But the benefits of exercise over time will ease some of the pain in the future and make your life more joyful.

Along with a physical therapy regimen, warm showers, and plenty of rest, committing to an exercise program can loosen up your body and keep you moving for years to come.


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