Ankylosing spondylitis can be an overwhelming diagnosis. Luckily, there are lots of small steps that you can take each day to help manage your symptoms and reduce the impact they have on your daily life.
I work as an Osteopath, so I regularly see people with AS and help them find things that work for them. I hope my tips can help you, too.
Firstly, it’s really important to keep your back and ribs moving well. Doing gentle breathing exercises and back stretches throughout the day can help reduce the stiffness you experience. Try a short routine:
- Sit on a seat or on the edge of your bed, feet flat on the floor.
- Take a deep breath in and reach both arms up over your head, as high as you can comfortably reach.
- As you breathe out, take your arms down towards your left side and hold for one breath. You should feel a nice stretch on your right side and into your ribs.
- Bring your arms straight up again and repeat on the other side.
- Relax your arms down to your sides, then turn to look over your left shoulder. If comfortable, take your left hand behind you and turn your body to follow the twist. Take two deep breaths in this position, slowly return to neutral and then repeat on the other side.
- Seated or standing, reach down towards the floor with your hands and relax in this position for three breaths before slowly returning to seated.
- Finally, interlink your fingers behind your low back and push your hands away to arch your back gently. If this movement is difficult, keep your hands apart and just gently reach behind you as you arch your back.
- Relax and enjoy feeling more supple!
The beauty of this routine is that you can do these exercises anywhere and anytime you need to! You can also do these stretches without holding them, creating more of a flowing rhythm to the routine and perform it a few times in a row.
It’s really important to keep your back and the rest of your body strong. Exercises like Pilates, hydrotherapy and swimming are perfect – they’re gentle, you can monitor your progress and they’re really effective. They may seem difficult at first, but sometimes you need to start small and build up. It can be really rewarding to suddenly realise you can do an exercise now that was difficult just a few weeks ago!
The main thing is to find things that are achievable, safe and that you enjoy. You need activities and exercises that fit into your life, otherwise they’re going to be difficult to maintain in the long run. Why not recruit friends to go to exercise classes with or follow videos online to make it more fun?
If you enjoy going to the gym, resistance exercises and free weights are really effective at keeping your muscles strong and the gentle impact is great for bone health. Be sure to enlist the help of an Physiotherapist, Osteopath or Personal Trainer with experience and knowledge of AS to create the best plan for you.
It’s important to say, before trying a new exercise regime or making big changes, please check with your doctor first to make sure it’s the right thing for you.
We’re all spending an increasing amount of time sat down. Particularly when living with AS, it’s important to sit with the correct posture to prevent problems building up. I find having a post-it note on my desk saying “sit up!” is a great way to remind me every now and then to check I’m sitting well. It’s easy to gradually slump closer to your computer screen or textbook, we’re all human!
To make sure you have the right desk set up:
- Make sure both feet are flat on the floor when you’re seated and you’re sat back into your chair with the small of your back supported.
- Have your forearms resting on the desk with elbows around 90 degrees and shoulders relaxed.
- Check your computer screen is at eye level and use a book stand so your head isn’t tilted down or up.
Getting up and moving around regularly can create huge improvements in joint stiffness and general aches. Why not have a small glass of water on your desk so you have to get up to refill it more regularly? Or even set a timer for 20 minutes to make sure you don’t sit for too long in one go?
Finally, please don’t feel AS will hold you back from things you enjoy. There are always ways you can adapt things to suit you, sometimes you just have to get creative. Good luck and let me know how you get on with these tips!
Zoë Clark is an Osteopath and Naturopath living with Psoriatic Arthritis and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. You can find her on twitter @ZoeClarkOsteo or on facebook www.facebook.com/zoeclarkosteopathy