Find out the surprising way exercise helps reduce AS pain.
Everyone can benefit from the many health perks of exercise, but for people with ankylosing spondylitis—or at risk of developing it—exercise can be crucial for their quality of life. “Exercise is a really important part of treating ankylosing spondylitis, and maintaining good health in general,” says Themistocles Protopsaltis, MD, spine surgeon at NYU Langone Hospital.
Ankylosing spondylitis, or AS, puts a lot of stress on the spinal joints. It’s caused by attacks from the immune system, resulting in AS symptoms like inflammation and joint damage—and a lot of back pain. (Learn more about what ankylosing spondylitis is here.)
While exercise won’t cure AS, it can reduce the pain. “When you exercise … you’re improving your muscle mass, you’re improving your core strength, you’re increasing the oxygen-carrying capacity of your blood so that the muscle will be healthier in response to a stressor … like ankylosing spondylitis,” says Dr. Protopsaltis.
When the muscles surrounding your spine are stronger, they take pressure off the joints, and they’re less likely to have aching spasms caused by the pain in the nearby joints, according to Dr. Protopsaltis.
Additionally, exercising with ankylosing spondylitis helps improve and preserve your joint mobility and range of motion. Regular stretching and yoga can be particularly effective at preserving joint mobility.
One of the best times to stretch may be after your morning alarm goes off. Stiffness tends to be at its worst in the mornings, and good stretches may help loosen up those joints and help you be more active the rest of the day.
Whatever type of exercise you choose, or time of day you squeeze it in, exercise for AS is so beneficial that it’s recommended to fit at least some physical activity into your schedule every single day, according to the Spondylitis Association of America.
Of course, exercise can be difficult when you’re already experiencing pain and stiffness in your back. If this is the case, your first priority may need to be getting your symptoms under control with medications for AS. When the pain has subsided, you’ll be better able to begin an exercise program.
“It’s not a bad idea if you have ankylosing spondylitis to meet with your doctor and consider starting a physical therapy program,” says Dr. Protopsaltis. “The physical therapist can show core-strengthening exercises to improve the core muscles that support the spine and the joints, and then also to work on different stretching exercises and stretching regimens that can be done.”
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Exercise is a really important part
of treating ankylosing spondylitis,
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and maintaining good health in general.
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If possible, you want to start the right
type of exercise and medical regimen
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that might minimize the effect of
the disease over the course of your life.
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I always recommend, once the initial
acute phase of the pain and
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severe pain has resolved, or once
you've got it under better control with
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a medication, to then start
a cardiovascular program and exercise.
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An exercise routine that's focused on
maintaining mobility of the joints,
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that's focused on
maintaining good posture,
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it helps to avoid getting into
a cycle of inflammation and spasm.
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Cardiovascular exercise where
you're jogging, swimming,
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using an elliptical machine,
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you're improving your muscle mass,
you're taking pressure off of the joints.
00:01:02,981 --> 00:01:07,111
You're improving your core strength,
muscles that support the spine.
00:01:07,111 --> 00:01:11,985
You're increasing oxygen carrying
capacity in your blood so that the muscle
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will be healthier in response to a
stressor and then less likely to spasm in
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response to the pain that's occurring
in the joint adjacent to it.
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Like you might get with a disease
like ankylosing spondylitis.
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Exercises like yoga, stretching,
maintain good joint mobility.
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Ankylosing spondylitis can tend to
affect people more in the evenings and
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in the morning.
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Maybe doing that stretching program in
the morning first thing when you get
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up might help to enhance
the activities of the day.
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Exercise & posture. Van Nuys, CA: Spondylitis Association of America. (Accessed on June 3, 2019 at https://www.spondylitis.org/Exercise-Posture.)
Overview of ankylosing spondylitis. Van Nuys, CA: Spondylitis Association of America. (Accessed on June 3, 2019 at https://www.spondylitis.org/Ankylosing-Spondylitis.)