Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of inflammatory arthritis that can cause severe pain and limit your mobility. If you have AS, you might not feel like moving or exercising because you’re in pain. But not moving can actually do more harm than good.
Some type of exercise should be a part of your treatment plan. Physical therapy (PT) is one way you can stay active. It can help reduce stiffness in your joints and improve your posture and flexibility, which can decrease your pain.
Here are some of the benefits of PT, along with exercise tips that can ease your symptoms.
What is physical therapy?
PT safely guides you through exercises to manage your condition. The primary role of a physical therapist is to create an exercise plan that is specific to you. This plan will improve your strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance.
Physical therapists may also teach you how to maintain proper posture when participating in daily activities.
At a PT session, a physical therapist will likely teach you about different exercises you can do at home that can help you manage your AS. Sessions are typically one hour. Depending on insurance coverage, people may see physical therapists from once a week to once a month.
If you’d like to see a physical therapist, ask your doctor if they have a recommendation and check with your insurance provider about coverage.
Benefits for people with ankylosing spondylitis
During PT, you’ll learn about different exercises you can do on a daily basis to ease pain or stiffness caused by AS.
In one review, researchers looked at four different studies involving people with AS. They found that individual and supervised exercise resulted in more spinal movement than no exercise at all.
In addition, group exercises were more beneficial than individual ones, both for movement and well-being.
Seeing a physical therapist is a great first step to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself and cause more pain. A physical therapist can teach you low-impact exercises that don’t put extra strain on your joints or spine.
You can find resources on group exercise at Arthritis Foundation and Spondylitis Association of America (SAA). Also check out offerings at your local YMCA or gym, such as aquatics programs.
Types of physical therapy exercises
One study found that an effective exercise regimen for AS includes stretching, strengthening, cardiovascular exercise, spinal mobility exercise, and functional training to help you with daily activities.
During a PT session, your physical therapist might ask you to try the following types of exercises:
- General stretching. Your physical therapist may have you bend sideways, forward, and backward to improve flexibility in your spine.
- Cardiovascular exercises. Your physical therapist may have you try cycling, swimming, or another low-impact aerobic exercise to help you improve mobility.
- Strength training. Yoga is one exercise that can increase your strength, along with the use of light hand weights. Tai chi is another option that increases strength and balance through slow movements based on martial arts.
Improving your posture is also key to managing your AS symptoms. Your physical therapist may suggest the following:
- Prone lying. To do this, you’ll lie face down on a firm surface with a pillow or towel under your chest and forehead. Lie in this position for one or two minutes, working your way up to 20 minutes.
- Standing against the wall. Stand against the wall with your heels four inches away and your butt and shoulders lightly touching the wall. Use a mirror to check your positioning. Hold this pose for five seconds. Repeat.
They may also recommend that you stand, walk, and sit tall while doing all exercises to maintain your posture.
Before you start PT, know that some slight pain or discomfort will likely occur when you begin exercising. But you shouldn’t push through severe pain. Make sure you let your physical therapist know if you’re experiencing extreme discomfort during your session.
Also, since many people with AS have more pain and stiffness in the morning, consider scheduling your PT sessions earlier in the day to loosen your muscles.
Some people will need more strengthening exercises, while others will need more stretching. A physical therapist will help you figure out your specific needs.
How to find a physical therapist
You can find a physical therapist in your area by searching the American Physical Therapy Association’s online database. Or you can ask your doctor for a recommendation. They may be able to recommend a physical therapist who specifically works with people living with conditions like AS.
You can also check with your insurance provider for a list of physical therapists in your area covered by your plan.
PT has many benefits for people living with AS. The targeted exercises can improve your strength, posture, and flexibility. Physical therapists can also help ensure you’re doing all the exercises correctly and safely.
Talk to your doctor to see if they recommend a physical therapist as part of your treatment plan, and consult your doctor before doing any exercise on your own.