You might expect ankylosing spondylitis, or AS, to deeply inhibit one’s lifestyle. After all, the trademark feature associated with AS is a fused spine, making the lower back stiff and immobile. However, there are a lot of steps that can be done to prevent that from occurring—and to ensure you can continue enjoying your life for years to come.
“Patients that have ankylosing spondylitis can still live full and vibrant lives, and do all the activities that they want to do,” says Themistocles Protopsaltis, MD, spine surgeon at NYU Langone Spine Center. “But what they should know is that it’s best if they try to live the lifestyle that’s as healthy as possible.”
In addition to medical treatments for AS, here are lifestyle tips that may help keep you healthy and mobile:
1. Eat nutritiously.
You can find a number of anecdotes about people who have tried specific diets to treat their AS and other types of arthritis, but few of these are supported by rigorous data. That said, there are certain foods that are known to trigger inflammation in the body, according to the Spondylitis Association of America.
Consider the following diet tips:
Seek out bone-boosting nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K.
Limit alcohol consumption.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Eat lots of whole grains.
Limit saturated fat and sugar, which are known for being inflammatory foods.
Limit processed foods, which are often high in sodium and low in fiber and other nutrients.
2. Quit smoking (or don’t start).
… and that includes “vaping,” or using e-cigarettes.
“Smoking can destroy the small blood vessels that are important in tissue regeneration and tissue repair in the body,” says Dr. Protopsaltis. AS already hurts those tissues, and smoking will inhibit the body’s ability to repair and heal that damage.
3. Practice good posture.
“As the disease progresses, if it gets to the point where these joints are fusing together, you don’t want to be locked into a position where the spine is crooked or the neck is bent, which would make it really difficult to stand, walk, run, and be a healthy individual,” says Dr. Protopsaltis.
4. Get quality sleep.
Sleep serves many functions, and one biggie is “resetting” your system, so to speak. Your body cleans up and recharges a number of organs and functions overnight as you sleep, like a janitor tidies up an office in the evening after everyone has left for the night.
AS is an inflammatory condition, and lack of sleep can worsen the inflammatory state, according to the National Sleep Foundation. In other words, it could increase your lower back pain and stiffness. Here are other health risks of skimping on sleep.
Your nightly snooze also gives you a chance to align your spine. “Try to sleep as flat as possible, without too many pillows,” says Dr. Protopsaltis. This helps you maintain good posture for (hopefully) an entire eight hours.
5. Get moving.
An exercise regimen or physical therapy program is vital. This helps maintain joint mobility, core strength, and flexibility despite your arthritis.
The Spondylitis Association of America recommends making time for exercise every single day—even if it’s only for five or 10 minutes. The morning may be an ideal time to exercise to loosen up your A.M. stiffness.
“Meet with a rheumatologist and start on the right kinds of treatments to improve joint mobility and quality of life, but also, decrease the likelihood that it develops into a chronic condition with permanent joint stiffness and fusion,” says Dr. Protopsaltis.