There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, but there are several ways of managing the symptoms so that the progression of the disease and the joint pain are controlled and the spinal deformity minimized.

It should be noted that—unlike many other forms of arthritis—with ankylosing spondylitis some patients experience a lessening of symptoms as they age, and some have had symptoms disappear altogether. However, ankylosing spondylitis progresses differently among patients, so it is advisable to develop and pursue a comprehensive treatment plan to provide both pain relief and minimize the risk of deformity.

Rest and Activity Modification

Rest and/or modifying one’s daily activities can play a role in helping minimize the pain and other symptoms for patients. Many physicians will prescribe a period of rest if pain is too severe and is exacerbated by movement. Rest can be coupled with applications of heat or warmth to alleviate stiffness, or ice or cold packs for local swelling, as needed.

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In addition to refraining from activity, changing the intensity or type of activity or exercise can prevent further strain on affected joints.

Some straightforward activity modifications in a few daily activities can make a significant difference in how severely ankylosing spondylitis affects a patient's life.

Ankylosing Spondylitis
Ankylosing Spondylitis. Enlarge

For example:

  • Minimizing the weight of items a patient can pick up (e.g., less than 20 pounds)
  • Switching from high impact exercise (like running) to a low impact exercise (such as swimming or pool therapy)
  • Adjusting the work environment (e.g. using a drafting table in place of a standard desk or taking frequent breaks).

Patients should work with their doctors and therapists to review activities that should be modified or eliminated.

Complete rest is not usually recommended. Continuing moderate activity and exercise is generally recommended for people with ankylosing spondylitis to help maintain joint flexibility and general mobility.

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Written by Judith Frank, MD
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