People who have ankylosing spondylitis (AS) may face a problem: Exercise is essential to help manage the condition, but movement can be painful and difficult.
Ankylosing spondylitis causes inflammation and pain in the spine and other joints in the body. As it progresses, it can cause a decrease in range of motion for the joints. The spine can eventually calcify into one rigid unit.
But even if people with AS can’t run a marathon, there are several moderate exercise and gentle stretching options that they can do to be more in control of their condition.
To stay active with AS, take to the water
One way to keep moving when joints are stiff or painful is to get into warm, buoyant water. Being in a pool not only takes the weight of gravity off your body, but the moist warm air and water can relax soft tissues, ease stiffness, and increase circulation.
In addition, the water provides a gentle resistance as you move through it, which is important to keep muscles strong and supple.
In the water, you have a range of exercise options:
- Simple leg lifts or knee bends by the wall on days that are a struggle because pain is high
- Swimming laps on days when your pain is minimal and your energy level is up
There are also water aerobic classes you can join, some of which are specifically geared toward people with chronic conditions or limited mobility.
Watch: Ankylosing Spondylitis Video
Other options for staying active
If water therapy is not a good option for you, don’t worry. You don't have to take to the pool to find exercise options that are manageable when you have AS.
Consider the following moderate activities that can help you fend off pain and stiffness and slow the degeneration of joints:
- Stretching and strength training. The more you exercise your range of motion—especially with a little resistance—the stronger and more flexible your muscles and connective tissues will be, which takes pressure off damaged joints. You don't have to join a gym to practice strength training; you can do it at home with small weights or resistance bands.
- Yoga. In addition to beneficial stretching and postures, yoga offers an emotional and spiritual component that can calm and center your thoughts. But talk with your doctor before starting a yoga program, and make sure your instructor knows about your condition and which poses that may be risky for you.
- Tai chi. Tai chi involves gentle, steady movements and deep breathing. It is ideal for those who are looking for a safe, low-impact way to be active without injuring muscles or joints.
- Walking. Staying active can be as simple as putting on sneakers and walking around the block. If you have pain or instability in your back or knees, try using trekking poles.
Talk with your doctor or physical therapist if you have AS and are struggling to figure out ways to stay active. It's worth the effort to figure out how you can get exercise and stick to it, because its benefits for your condition—and your general health—are huge.