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Ankylosing Spondylitis

Back Pain Blog FBThe best thing about being a physiotherapist is seeing progress. Whether in acute or chronic conditions; whether on a large scale or small, progress always thrills a physiotherapist and more often than not, our patient. In the person who lives with chronic pain, like those that suffer from Ankylosing spondylitis, physiotherapy does become a part of their routine; just like taking their medication every single day.

What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a chronic form of inflammatory arthritis, which appears to have a genetic predisposition. The disease is prevalent in up to 2% of Australians and is more likely to affect men that women (3 males for every female). It mainly affects the verterbral joints but can also affect the other joints, tendons and ligaments and in severe cases the heart, skin and eyes.

The symptoms of AS can vary in individuals and are caused by the inflammation present in the joints. Common early symptoms include deep aching across the buttocks, pain in between shoulder blades or in the front of the chest and early morning stiffness. A hallmark of AS is inflammation of the regions where tendons and muscles attach to bone (also called enthesis). Most people with this illness with experience flare ups of back pain and stiffness. Others will even experience irritation of the eyes, and inflammatory bowel disease.

How is AS treated?

Treatment for the condition usually involves medication to relieve inflammation as well as exercise and physiotherapy to correct postures and reduce symptoms of musculoskeletal pain and stiffness. If left untreated, AS can cause calcific changes in the bone in addition to the ligaments and tendons supporting the vertebral column.  In some people this can result in fusion of the spine.

Below are some tips for managing AS:
  • Think tall thoughts. Correcting your posture isn’t as hard as we imagine it to be. Like breaking a bad habit, you need to start somewhere. I often tell people to correct every time they get a phone call, text message or email. That way you are bound to start activating the right muscles throughout the day. So remember: head up, chin tucked in and keep that spine nice and neutral with a gentle curve inwards at your lower back (not straight like a plank).
  • Exercise on your tummy:  Doing back extension exercises as part of your maintenance program will help prevent that unwelcome hunched back later in life. Be careful with these exercises if you have an acute episode of back pain. It is essential that you seek assistance from a health professional in this case.
  • Do weight bearing and resisted exercise: Weight bearing exercises are great for maintaining bone mineral density and muscle mass. Walking, jogging, squats and exercising with weights can be recommended depending on your level of fitness. If you’ve never tried lifting weights before, start off slow and work your way up. Once again your physiotherapist will be able to assist you with getting into this form of exercise.
  • Maintain your cardiovascular fitness: While having a healthy heart is of vital importance, cardiovascular training also helps improve your lung volume which means more oxygen is available for the body. In addition to this, CV exercise releases endorphins in the body which can help decrease pain- naturally!
  • Try heat packs for the lower back. This can significantly reduce muscle spasm and help with stiffness. In areas of the lower limbs where joint swelling becomes an issue, one mind find ice more helpful in reducing swelling and helping to regain range of motion.

How can Physiotherapist help?

The best tip Pivotal Motion Physiotherapist can give a patient with AS is to dedicate time everyday to looking after their body. This means getting some exercise every day, being mindful of correcting postures and getting reviews from your health professional. Contrary to common belief, physiotherapy doesn’t necessarily purely involve contact with my elbow and your muscle.

Physiotherapy generally use a combination of manual therapy techniques to mobilise joints, trigger point releasing techniques as well as stretches as part of the hands on protocol. The rest of it is exercise. Depending on one’s age, the severity of the condition, fitness level, occupation and sporting interests, physiotherapy is aimed to design an exercise program that works on improving strength, flexibility and balance.

While the diagnosis of AS can be concerning and hence greatly affect levels of motivation, it is a manageable condition. With a little dedication, a few lifestyle choices and the assistance of a few health professionals, you can ensure that the diagnosis does not take over your life.

Are you experience flare ups of back pain and stiffness? Come visit our experienced physiotherapist at Pivotal Motion. Book an appointment online or call us today on 07 3352 5116.