Daily exercise is an extremely important component of an ankylosing spondylitis treatment program; exercise can help minimize pain and increase mobility and flexibility. Some of the best ankylosing spondylitis exercises are gentle movements such as yoga stretches, water aerobics, and tai chi. Perhaps the most important ankylosing spondylitis exercises are for improving posture and strengthening the muscles that aid in posture, such as attempting to straighten the back by lying prone on the floor or leaning the back against a wall. Gentle stretches that lengthen the hamstrings also can help loosen up a tight lower back. More strenuous ankylosing spondylitis exercises, such as running or weightlifting, may be beneficial but should be attempted only after consulting a physician.
Before starting an exercise program, a person with ankylosing spondylitis should consult a doctor to make sure exercise is safe. Ankylosing spondylitis exercises should be done daily, usually anytime after morning stiffness has eased. If pain is intense enough to discourage exercise, a patient may benefit from a discussion with her doctor. Often, a doctor can help by suggesting or prescribing pain relievers to ease pain enough to allow for comfortable exercise.
Since ankylosing spondylitis is a progressive disease that may result in bone fusion and permanent curvature of the spine, the goals of ankylosing spondylitis exercises are to manage and slow the disease, prevent pain, and ease symptoms. Posture may be permanently affected by possible fusing of overgrowths of vertebral bone. For this reason, improving posture is a very important part of an ankylosing spondylitis exercise regimen.
Individuals with ankylosing spondylitis often find that they must learn to be aware of posture at all times. Lying prone can help raise awareness of how a straight back feels, and it can work out some stiffness as well. If the back is not completely straight, it should not be forced. The exercise should only be pushed as far as it is comfortable.
If decreased mobility is a factor, an exercise ball can be helpful and add support during movement. Large diameter exercise balls can help an exerciser strengthen core muscles, which are important for maintaining a straight back. If getting onto the floor to perform exercises is too difficult, many may be performed in a straight-backed chair. Some exercises can be performed while sitting on the ball as well. A physical therapist can recommend proper exercises using the ball on an individual basis.
Gentle toe reaches, cat stretches, and waist twists also can help loosen the muscles of the lower back. Shoulder circles, chin tilts, and gently bending the neck from side to side can help increase flexibility in the upper back, shoulders, and neck. Neck circles should be avoided, however. Movements should be slow and controlled and never jerking, and fused joints should never be forced.