Living with Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a progressive, inflammatory condition that affects the joints of the spine. It usually starts in the joints between the spine and pelvis, but it may spread up to the neck, affecting other joints, tendons, and ligaments.

People with AS have a reduced flexibility of the back as calcium is laid where the ligaments attach to the bones of the spine. Eventually, the individual bones of the spine may fuse together.

Symptoms may vary from person to person, with some seemingly unaware of the disease, while others experience a significant decrease in quality of life.

There is no cure for AS, but there are different medications available to ease the pain and stiffness of the joints. It also is important to be self-aware to manage living with the condition.

Daily management of ankylosing spondylitis

Some steps people with AS can take to help with the condition and maintain their quality of life include:

  • Staying active and exercising to help ease the pain, maintain flexibility, and improve posture. Exercise is one of the keystones of AS management.
  • Practicing good posture to help avoid some of the problems related to AS, getting a suitable chair, a firm (but not a too hard) mattress, and pillows that can be molded to suit any position and give good neck support. Close attention to posture, along with exercise, is very important to help keep the spine mobile and maintain a good quality of life.
  • Applying heat and cold (heating pads, hot baths, showers) can ease pain and stiffness, and ice may help reduce swelling of inflamed areas.
  • Eating well and healthy. Being overweight increases the burden on joints and may increase the pain. It is recommended to eat at least four portions of vegetables a day with two portions of fruit. Protein from fish, beans, nuts, eggs and not too much meat, also is important to diet, as is calcium. The equivalent of 200 ml of semi-skimmed milk is recommended daily.
  • Quitting smoking, as it may reduce the capacity of the lungs, leading to shortness of breath and consequently putting a strain on the spine.
  • Moderating alcohol consumption, keeping in mind that anti-inflammatory medicines and alcohol should not be taken together.

Relapses and remissions of ankylosing spondylitis

AS may change with time, with painful episodes (relapses) and periods of less pain (remissions).

Flares can include pain, stiffness, and fatigue. Pain can be due to an active inflammation in the tissues around joints and tendons, shortening or tightening of the muscles or tendons, or protective muscle spasms. Stiffness may be due to joints fusing, bony bridges that restrict movement forming, or muscles and tendons shortening and tightening. Fatigue may be due to the inflammation and healing cycles of relapses and remissions, muscle spasms, poor quality of sleep due to pain, and generalized stress of having a chronic condition.

Some tips to help relieve pain during flares include doing gentle and simple stretching exercises, applying heat, using a TENS machine (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), learning acupressure points, and using relaxation and meditation techniques.

Breathing techniques also help relax the muscles, control feelings of panic, lower stress hormone levels, and give a feeling of being in control.

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.