My Top 2 Complementary and Alternative Therapies for AS

These practices have offered columnist Janneke Phung significant pain relief

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by Janneke Phung |

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If you asked me which complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies I’ve found most helpful for managing my ankylosing spondylitis (AS), I’d tell you diet and chiropractic care, hands down.

Desperate for relief before receiving an AS diagnosis, I dabbled with various forms of complementary care. Finding pain relief was an ongoing pursuit. I tried massage therapy, physiotherapy, naturopathy, osteopathy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care. They ranged from providing significant, temporary relief to seemingly being a waste of time, energy, and money.

Long before I realized I had AS, I went to a chiropractor for regular spinal adjustments, as I’d been experiencing back pain, headaches, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. With regular chiropractic care and exercises catered to my condition, I found these issues relatively manageable for a long time.

Additionally, I found it extremely helpful to have my chiropractor in my corner. He recognized that my lack of improvement could mean that something else was amiss. I was encouraged to seek out other treatments as well as imaging, such as MRIs, to find a reason for my pain.

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Finding Relief While Waiting for an Ankylosing Spondylitis Diagnosis

A frustrating search for relief

Shortly before I received my AS diagnosis, I had a difficult appointment at an acupuncture clinic. I vividly remember the soft, thickly padded, and heated treatment table. The clean white sheet on the table was crisp, and the music was soothing. I was lying with my face down, my head in the breathing hole.

The well-meaning therapist kept asking me to relax, which I thought I was doing. If you’re familiar with chronic pain, however, you know that relaxing isn’t as easy as it sounds. To compensate for pain on one side of the body, the muscles on the opposite side will often work twice as hard. To relax my body when it’d been in a continual pattern of stress for an extended time was impossible.

Eventually, after being told to just let loose for the nth time, I burst into tears. I vividly (and to my horror) remember my stream of tears and snot falling through the deluxe table’s breathing hole onto the dark patterned carpet below. I’d arranged child care and driven across town because I was desperate for relief. I was frustrated with my body and didn’t know where to turn for help.

Upon ending the session, the therapist told me he was unsure he could help me. Mentally, I added him to the long list of various therapists who’d sent me along with equally little hope.

Finding relief

When I eventually learned I had AS, it all made sense. It’s no wonder treatments like acupuncture, massage, naturopathy, and chiropractic care didn’t heal my autoimmune disease. I’ve found, however, that while CAM therapies haven’t cured me, they can still play a significant role in treating my autoimmune disease.

Previously, I’ve shared how my switch to a starch-free diet has been life-changing. I live a relatively pain-free and medication-free life, which I largely credit to diet and lifestyle modifications.

After being diagnosed with AS, I debated whether I should continue with chiropractic care. In terms of offering relief from pain, however, it was one of the most helpful complementary therapies I tried. Typically, though, chiropractic care isn’t recommended for people with AS. The disease can lead to fused vertebrae in the spine, and the risk of fractures or injury to those fused bones is higher with forceful chiropractic adjustments.

As someone with minimal fusion, I decided that the benefit of regular chiropractic adjustments is worth the risk for me. My chiropractor has proven to be thorough in his care for me and knowledgeable about my condition. Most importantly, he uses a low-impact technique of adjusting called the Activator Method, which has been highly effective for me while putting little force on the affected area.

I’m grateful for medical professionals who see the individuals, validate their pain, and cater to their unique needs. For you, that might not be a doctor of chiropractic, but when you find that practitioner who can provide you with relief while keeping your whole being in mind, you know you’ve struck gold!

Thanks for reading! You can learn more about my story, browse starch-free recipes, or peruse the stories of others who successfully manage their AS with diet and lifestyle modifications on my website. Join me on Instagram and Facebook for the latest updates and recipes.

Note: Ankylosing Spondylitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ankylosing Spondylitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ankylosing spondylitis.


Jemma Newman avatar

Jemma Newman

Thank you for sharing such a vulnerable moment with us Janneke! AS can be such a confusing disease, especially before diagnosis when it's so hard to find anything that helps. I haven't seen a chiropractor but my very experienced masseuse brings me enormous relief from all the muscle tension you described. I'm so glad you have found, and can share, therapies that help.

Janneke Phung avatar

Janneke Phung

Thanks for the feedback, Jemma! I love that you have also found therapies that have been able to help relieve your muscle tension. It can be such a crazy journey, trying to find what works for each of us. :)

Heidi avatar


We have such a similar story! I was misdiagnosed for so many years that I even have a file from one doctor saying my hysteria was causing me to not be able to walk. Well, no, it was sciatica from my fusing.... but after about 10 years of confusion, I finally was diagnosed and in my case, my chiropractor chose not to work on me anymore due to possible damage to my fused areas which totally made sense- I found more relief from acupuncture and massage personally but I completely agree with your comment about how we are all so different and relief comes in diff forms for each of us. For me, surfing (crazy right?) and change of diet- no starch, gluten, sugar, alcohol, tobacco etc and CBD has gotten me to an inflammation free zone! Or at least for 5 years, I'm now back in it again but hopefully I can get back on track soon and get the inflammation down again. Thank you for writing this , it was really helpful to read a similar story!

Janneke Phung avatar

Janneke Phung

I love reading about your story, Heidi! You're right - so many similarities. It sounds like you've got more fusion than me, but how awesome that you have still found therapies and lifestyle modifications that have allowed you to thrive! Surfing for exercise sounds super fun (but it's not going to happen in the frozen tundra where I live, HAHA). Our diet sounds super similar. I've had so much success with mine that I created a website where I share all about it ( - I feel like it's given me my life back! Thanks for sharing your story - after years of both of us being dismissed by others it is SO nice to run into people who 'get it'! Wishing you all the best as you try to get back on track with controlling inflammation!


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