Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that affects the joints and ligaments of the spine. Because these joints and ligaments play significant roles in facilitating movement, a person with this condition may experience stiffness as one of their primary symptoms.
Ankylosing spondylitis exercises may help address this symptom, granting a patient an improved range of motion. If you have this form of arthritis, keep reading to learn more about the potential benefits of certain exercises for ankylosing spondylitis.
(Note: Sources for the information in this article include the National Institutes of Health, the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, Healthline, the Cleveland Clinic, and MyHealth Alberta.)
Understanding Ankylosing Spondylitis
Patients with ankylosing spondylitis typically begin developing symptoms in early adulthood. However, some begin to show signs of the condition during their teen, or even childhood, years.
Common ankylosing spondylitis symptoms include:
- Lower back, hip, and/or buttock pain, that may be worse at night and may improve with exercise
- Pain that worsens during periods of inactivity
- Pain that may wake you up in the middle of the night
This form of arthritis can limit your ability to work and earn an income. Thus, if you have this condition, you may consider researching disability for ankylosing spondylitis. You might be eligible to receive disability benefits to cover your basic needs through the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA).
You should also learn more about ankylosing spondylitis treatment exercises. Proper exercise can help you maintain joint function and guard against stiffness.
Benefits of Exercise for Ankylosing Spondylitis
Ankylosing spondylitis and physical exercise may not be an obvious combination. However, when an exercise regimen is safe, it can offer numerous benefits to an individual with this condition. Examples of said benefits include (but may not necessarily be limited to) the following:
- Alleviating pain
- Improving posture
- Increasing flexibility
Over time, ankylosing spondylitis could result in fusion of the vertebrae in the spine. The best stretches for ankylosing spondylitis help to potentially slow the progress of the condition by allowing an individual to maintain flexibility for as long as possible. Keep reading for more information on the specific exercises.
Guidelines for Safe Exercise
Consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any exercise regimen. Your doctor needs to confirm you’re fit enough to exercise safely. You may even want to exercise under the guidance of a professional who is familiar with ankylosing spondylitis physical therapy exercises.
The general goal here is to take a balanced and gradual approach to exercising with this condition. This means starting with easy ankylosing spondylitis exercises before attempting the more challenging or physically demanding exercises. In addition, you must properly warm up and cool down before exercising to guard against injury.
Range of Motion Exercises
The best stretches for ankylosing spondylitis may vary from one patient to another depending on their specific needs. However, the following types of “range of motion” exercises may generally benefit most people with this condition:
- Neck stretches: Exercises involving neck stretches and rotations can improve cervical mobility.
- Shoulder exercises: By carefully stretching their shoulders, someone with ankylosing spondylitis could guard against stiffness and enhance their overall range of motion.
- Back stretches: Although excessive back stretching could prove difficult for someone with ankylosing spondylitis, performing gentle back stretches may help them maintain flexibility in the spine.
For more information on how to do these exercises with step-by-step instructions coupled with visual examples, click here.
Strengthening exercises can build up the muscles that support the spine. Ideal strengthening exercises for ankylosing spondylitis include:
- Core exercises: Targeted core exercises can strengthen the spine and facilitate better posture
- Leg exercises: Exercises that strengthen the leg muscles may result in better support for the lower back and hips.
- Low-impact exercises: Generally, strengthening exercises for ankylosing spondylitis may be best when they are low-impact exercises, such as swimming and riding a bike. To minimize the chances of injury, someone with this condition might prefer to ride a stationary bike instead of cycling on the road.
One of the major symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis is stiffness and loss of overall flexibility. Thus, it makes sense that some of the best exercises for ankylosing spondylitis would consist of exercises that serve to boost flexibility. Specific options to consider include the following:
- Yoga and/or Pilates: Both yoga and Pilates can boost flexibility while also promoting greater relaxation. Some research indicates that relaxation can promote better health in general.
- Hip flexor, hamstring, and quadricep stretches: Exercises that stretch these particular joints and ligaments may benefit someone with ankylosing spondylitis. To ensure your safety and to achieve ideal results, consider asking a physical therapist or personal trainer to demonstrate these types of exercises for you.
Breathing and Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation can promote pain management. Consider incorporating a breathing exercise into your routine, such as the 4-7-8 exercise. This involves:
- Inhaling for four seconds
- Holding the breath for seven seconds
- Exhaling for eight seconds
Repeating this pattern consistently can result in feelings of relaxation. Again, this might promote some healing. For more information on how to do the 4-7-8 breathing exercise, click here.
Aerobic exercises can improve cardiovascular health. Useful aerobic exercises for ankylosing spondylitis include:
- Low-impact aerobic exercises, such as walking
- At-home video-based aerobic workouts
It’s very important to achieve the right intensity level when engaging in aerobic exercise. If an exercise is too intense, you might overexert yourself.
Water-based exercises may also be particularly beneficial to someone with ankylosing spondylitis. Because water is buoyant and provides resistance, performing exercises in water may help someone improve joint mobility.
Various changes to your lifestyle can help you stay healthy despite your condition. Tips to keep in mind include:
- Determine how much time you need to complete your exercise routine and add it to your weekly schedule ahead of time to avoid putting exercise off.
- Maintain a healthy diet and consider discussing your eating habits with a nutritionist. You need to eat for energy, but if you gain too much weight, your symptoms may worsen.
- Get enough sleep. Proper rest will improve the quality of your workouts and could result in a general alleviation of some symptoms.
Sample Exercise Routine
The following is a sample routine for someone exercising with ankylosing spondylitis. Just remember, the best way to determine what type of routine is ideal for you is to discuss the topic with a professional physical therapist or trainer:
- Walk or cycle for 5-10 minutes to warm up and increase blood flow throughout your body.
- Perform neck rotations, shoulder rolls, and hip circles to improve your range of motion.
- Perform neck, back, chest, quad, and hamstring stretches, trying to comfortably hold each position for 30 seconds. Repeat each position two to three times.
- Perform basic resistance exercises, such as wall push-ups, leg raises, and pelvic tilts.
- Perform chin tucks to improve posture
- Set aside a few minutes for breathing exercises to promote relaxation towards the end of a workout.
- Consider cooling down with another 5-10 minutes of low-impact aerobic exercise.
Exercises for Ankylosing Spondylitis: How Working Out Improves Symptoms
Although these are among the best exercises for ankylosing spondylitis, it’s important to remember that none of what you read here should be mistaken for official medical advice. It’s always important to consult with a professional when starting an exercise regimen, particularly one that’s meant to address a health condition.
That said, you also shouldn’t dismiss the value of exercise for someone with ankylosing spondylitis. By committing to a fitness regimen, you may enjoy greater flexibility and comfort, significantly boosting your quality of life as a result.