Ankylosing Spondylitis – Melina Mirzaei, Kinesiologist

Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis which primarily affects the spine and sacro-iliac joints. It causes inflammation of the joints in the spine, which can result in chronic stiffness and pain. In the late stages of this disease, this inflammation can cause the bones in the spine to start to fuse together, resulting in a flexed, or hunched-over position. AS can also cause inflammation in other parts of the body, such as the hips, ribs, and the small joints in the hands and feet.

The severity of AS symptoms varies greatly across individuals- some will experience only occasional back pain, while others may experience more constant pain and stiffness throughout their body. There is currently no cure for AS, but it can be well-managed using a combination of treatments. This generally includes medication, exercise, physical therapy, and heat or cold to ease muscle spasms and joint pain. Surgery may be considered in severe cases.

A physical therapist can help you determine what kind of exercise is safe for your body. Physical activity is beneficial to maintain range of motion through the spine and other joints, increase strength and mobility, and improve overall well-being. An exercise program tailored to manage AS will generally include strengthening exercises (strong muscles support your joints), postural exercises (to avoid hunched-forward posture), and mobility exercises (to maintain a healthy range of motion). Weight-bearing exercise will also help to preserve bone density, as the bones in the spine can become brittle in advanced cases of AS.

Your physical therapist may also provide heat or cold therapy or encourage you to use it yourself, depending on your symptoms. Heat is beneficial for relieving pain and stiffness, and enhancing range of motion. Heat should not be used on an already inflamed joint in order to avoid worsening of symptoms. Cold therapy, such as ice packs, are useful to reduce swelling and pain in inflamed joints. Always make sure to place a barrier between your skin and a cold pack to avoid irritating the skin.

Managing AS also includes protecting your joints from excessive stress. Your physical therapist can help you identify aggravating factors and ways to reduce or avoid them. For example, you may want to alternate repetitive or heavy tasks with lighter ones, and make sure to use proper lifting techniques when applicable. It is important to sit, stand and move with proper alignment to alleviate excess stress on your bones and joints.

If you have any questions about AS or any other condition, please contact us at info@gastownphysiopilates.com.

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