Top 3 Exercises for Ankylosing Spondylitis (Physical Therapy DIY)
How Physical Therapy Helps Ankylosing Spondylitis
Working on posture and range-of-motion exercises with a skilled PT can reduce your pain and other symptoms, keeping you active and enjoying life.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Even though medications provide much relief from AS symptoms and could even slow down its progression, physical therapy can be a valuable part of your ankylosing spondylitis care. Physical therapy components, like stretching, exercise, improving posture, and even strategies such as selecting the right mattress and workplace chair, focus in on your specific needs to improve your quality of life.
Since ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory disease that affects your spine and functions associated with your spine, using the supporting modalities make sense, says rheumatologist Daniel Clegg, MD, chief of the division of rheumatology the University of Utah Healthcare in Salt Lake City. “Physical therapy for range of motion and posture are really important, because if you aren’t in a good posture and have the unfortunate outcome of fusing in that position, that can be even more debilitating.” Physical therapy can help maintain your quality of life, adds Dr. Clegg.
Romanian researchers screening nearly 100 people with AS confirmed that a postural assessment along with correcting any misalignments should be part of the physical therapy strategy for people with ankylosing spondylitis.
The Benefits of Physical Therapy for AS
“The most important thing physical therapy can provide is helping with respect to self-management of ankylosing spondylitis,” says physical therapy expert and educator Maura Iversen, chair and professor in the department of physical therapy at Northeastern University in Boston.
“The main symptoms are loss of mobility of the spine over time, which can be very debilitating with respect to aerobic capacity,” says Iversen. If your vertebra and your ribs fuse, your rib cage loses flexibility, which means your lungs are less able to expand fully.
Physical therapy can also help with other symptoms including tendon pain and stiffness and painful joints. Correcting your habits of movement and positioning early on with AS can help maintain your long-term mobility and health. For example, uncorrected poor posture could result in a curved spine and, eventually, difficulty looking at level or up.
Physical therapists with AS skills can provide , create exercise plans that will help you stay mobile and active longer, find ways to work around your changing mobility, and even restore mobility after you’ve lost it.
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According to research published in Current Opinions in Rheumatology, physical therapists have a role at various stages of AS. PTs can help you learn how to be active at home or in your free time, and also play a significant role in rehabilitation for patients with severe AS.
Specific strategies of physical therapy for AS include:
Making the Most of Physical Therapy for AS
Iversen says that paying for AS physical therapy can sometimes be a challenge for patients, so she plans her sessions in order to maximize time. That means teaching people stretches and exercises they can do at home without her and using their sessions with her to focus on activities that can’t be done outside of her office. She also might use computer or phone video chats to record patients walking in their usual, relaxed posture and then provide a comparison of correct movement and posture so they can self-correct at home.
Because ankylosing spondylitis is a progressive condition, you might be building a long-term relationship with a physical therapist or physical therapy practice, so it’s important to trust the PT you’re working with. Your doctor can help you decide if PT should be part of your plan and can help refer you to a therapist who understands the needs of AS.
Video: Ankylosing Spondylitis
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