Physical therapy and active, low impact exercise help considerably in the treatment of ankylosing spondylitis because they can prevent or slow development of a stooped posture which is a characteristic of many ankylosing spondylitis patients, as well as maintain movement and flexibility in affected joints.

Physical therapy generally will focus on promoting good posture, stretching to achieve greater flexibility, as well as strengthening exercises to support the spine. Deep-breathing exercises can also help patients focus their energy and increase lung capacity.

In addition to participating in physical therapy, some patients find relief from special support devices. Although they do not help in treating the disease, they may help maintain the posture or position achieved through physical therapy. These include:

  • Lumbar supports (e.g., lumbar support pillows)
  • Back braces
  • Support mattresses or zero-gravity chairs.
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Exercise can be difficult for ankylosing spondylitis patients when they are dealing with pain and changes to their posture. However, once pain is under control, it is important to remain active and exercise. Even moderate exercise can help patients maintain a healthy weight so the joints are not subjected to unnecessary stress. Physical activity and light stretching improve the flexibility needed to lessen pain.

Ankylosing Spondylitis
Ankylosing Spondylitis. Enlarge

Slow motion or non-weight bearing exercises are often prescribed for ankylosing spondylitis patients. These include:

  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Pool therapy, also known as water therapy
  • Weight training
  • Biking or stationary bicycling.

A qualified arthritis treatment specialist or certified athletic trainer can help patients map out an effective program that both strengthens and minimizes the impact on affected joints.

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Written by Judith Frank, MD
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