Exercises for Ankylosing Spondylitis

Low-impact Activities for Pain Relief

Man sitting upright in his chair with his arms folded behind his head feeling relieved of painQuestion: What exercises and stretches do you recommend for patients with ankylosing spondylitis?
— Coeur d'Alene, ID

Answer: Before I explain some beneficial exercises and activities, I'll briefly describe ankylosing spondylitis (AS) for our readers who aren't familiar with this disease.

Simply put, ankylosing spondylitis is a form of inflammatory arthritis that affects the spine. Men and women may develop AS, though young men are most prone to it. Patients usually report stiffness and discomfort that can progress from the low back region up toward the neck and ribcage. The pain and stiffness with ankylosing spondylitis varies from patient to patient, so some people are more affected than others.

Before starting any exercise program, I strongly urge people with AS to consult their physician and physical therapist first to ensure the safety of the program. Physical therapists are the most qualified to prescribe an individualized, comprehensive exercise program to fit your needs. Also, it's a good idea to meet with your medical team beforehand so you can ask any questions or voice concerns you may have about how exercise will affect your ankylosing spondylitis pain.

In my practice, I advise patients with AS to diligently maintain proper posture in sitting and standing and to practice good body mechanics during their day-to-day activities. Proper posture is so important for everyone—but especially for people who have ankylosing spondylitis. If you'd like to learn more, read this article about ankylosing spondylitis and posture. It provides tips on how to maintain good posture while exercising.

Low impact exercises that keep a certain level of fitness but don't increase or produce symptoms are typically the best course of action to follow. But remember, this is a general suggestion. Always follow the specific recommendations of your doctor and/or physical therapist.

As you start exercising, it's important that you keep track of what you're doing and how you feel during and after you perform the activity. Some aches and pains may be acceptable, but exercise should never exacerbate your ankylosing spondylitis pain. If you're concerned that your exercise plan may be doing more harm than good, don't hesitate to talk to your doctor and/or physical therapist.

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