The Correct Ankylosing Spondylitis Exercise: Yoga and Posture Easy Tips
- If you have ankylosing spondylitis exercise can help you to improve range of motion, posture, and strength.
- Poor posture can worsen ankylosing spondylitis. Whether you are in the beginning stages of ankylosing spondylitis or further along, there are exercises that you can do to improve your posture and relieve pain. Learn which exercises to do and which to avoid.
If you have ankylosing spondylitis (AS) exercise may seem impossible. In some cases AS is debilitating. The problem with AS is the stiffness. If we manage to be more flexible we can actually stop it from becoming worse. I have seen cases where people were able to be more flexible than before the diagnosis of the disease. It’s your fight and you have to fight it well.
Why Exercise Is Important If You Have Ankylosing Spondylitis
Ankylosing Spondylitis and Posture
In addition to pain and stiffness, often posture is affected due to weakened muscles that are stiff and joints that no longer function as they should. This just adds to the problem by causing muscle imbalances and more pain.
You also run the risk of making your AS even worse if you don’t correct your posture. Good posture is important for everyone, but especially those who suffer from AS or have a high risk of developing AS. Exercise can improve your posture.
Other Benefits of Exercise for AS:
- Flexibility is increased
- Mobility is increases
- Strength is increased
- Pain relief
- Better quality sleep due to pain relief
Correct Your Posture
The problem is that many people move about without paying attention and have a lot running through their minds. They do not even realize that there is a problem with their posture until it starts causing a problem or unless it is remarkably noticeable. So, if you have AS and suspect you’re developing a hunchback posture, there are some simple methods to test it:
- Photos: Look at your posture in photos, particularly ones taken of you from the side. You will be able to see if you were hunching.
- Mirror test: Turn to the side and check the mirror. See whether you are standing up with your body in a straight line or whether you are hunching or slouching. If you struggle with using the correct form while exercising, a mirror can help with that too.
- Wall test: Stand with your back against a wall. Is your head touching the wall? If you are standing up straight, it should be. Your shoulders, butt, and heels should also be touching the wall.
- Pillow test: You can also at times take the pillow below your head away and see if your head is able to touch the bed effortlessly. If it doesn’t, this is the point where to start from. This should be your first milestone to achieve with correct postures and exercises.
Once you are aware that you have poor posture, you can now start taking steps to correct it.
How to Improve Ankylosing Spondylitis Posture
Strengthening your back and core will really help with your posture. The following exercises can help you to do that as well as correct any muscle imbalances. Though a combination of stretching, strength, and cardio exercises are best, the key is not which exercise, the key to managing your disease is to exercise every day.
You can take a rest day or two, but be sure to do stretches and breathing exercises on those days to maintain flexibility and relieve pain. The other tips will help you to maintain your posture as you improve it.
1. Be Aware and Correct Your Posture Throughout the day
The first thing that you can do is to check your posture throughout the day. If you are standing, stand up straight, if you are walking, walk up straight, and do the same with sitting. You can stand against the wall every now and then to check your posture.
Notice how it feels to be standing, walking or sitting up straight, get used to that feeling, and anytime you feel yourself hunching over, or find yourself looking down at the ground while walking, correct your posture.
2. Lifting or bending over
One of the biggest mistakes I see people doing around is how they pick the stuff up from the ground. They never bend their knees and instead take the full weight on their back. One should squat and lift things up using the leg muscles and not the back. The pressure on the back will go in building strong leg muscles.
If you cannot squat when you lift objects, kneel down on one knee with the other foot flat on the floor and then lift. Any time you bend over, whether it is to pick something up or not, bend your legs and bend at the waist to keep your back straight.
3. Good Ergonomics
Making sure that your desk is set up properly and that you have a good chair really helps when it comes to good posture. So often people have bad posture because they need to look down at their computer screen or it is too far forward so they need to lean forward to see properly, or their chairs are too low for the table so their shoulders end up hunching.
When you sit, try using a cushion behind your lower back to give extra support. Buy a chair with a straight hardback. Do not sit for long periods of time. Doctors are even saying that sitting is as bad as smoking. If you are unable to avoid sitting for longer periods of time, you may find that an ergonomic chair will work for you.
Avoid chairs or couches that are overly cushioned or soft as this causes you to sink into the chair and your pelvis to tilt instead of remaining neutral. A firmer bed may also be helpful because if the mattress is too soft you may end up sinking into the mattress and will not be able to keep your back, neck, and shoulders in good alignment.
4. Breathing Exercises
In some cases of AS, breathing can become difficult due to hunched posture, inflammation, and stiffness. Deep breathing exercises not only help by increasing flexibility in your rib cage but to combat stress too.
Believe me or not but this will have profound effects in managing your disease. I have written a whole article on the psychological component of developing this disease and how simple techniques like breathing can de-stress you.
Simply sitting up straight or lying down on your back and taking deep breaths can help. Make sure that when you breathe in that your stomach moves up or out first, and that your ribs then expand outward. As you breathe out your stomach and ribs should return to the starting position. You can also try the following if you have enough flexibility and range of motion:
- If you are sitting upright: Put your palms against the side of your head so that your elbows are bent, then breathe in and pull your elbows back so that they are out to the side, then as you breathe out, let your elbows return to their starting points.
- If you are lying down: Roll up a towel and put it between your shoulder blades as you lie on your back. If you use a pillow under your head, make sure that it is a thin one. Going without a pillow is better. As you breathe in, lift your arms up and backward in an arc. Take them as far over as you can. As you breathe out, return your arms to your sides.
- If you are standing: You can stand against a wall to make sure that you are standing up straight if this makes it easier to keep your body aligned. Raise your hands with your palms up so that your arms form a 90° angle. As you breathe in, move your hands out to the sides, as you breathe out, move them back in.
You can repeat either of these exercises a few times. You may not be able to do much in the beginning, so start with what you can and work your way up. You’ll notice more flexibility in your ribs and that your back muscles, especially your upper back muscles, are getting stronger and able to hold you up better.
5. Yoga for Spondylitis
I think that yoga has answers to all the diseases. I am a big fan of yoga and start my day by doing a Sun Salutation. Also, I lift weights 3 times a week and between each set, I perform various yoga postures to target that muscle group for which I am lifting the weight so that more blood flows to it.
I have a gene (HL) for developing AS. So it is important to keep my body strong and flexible. Just because I have the gene, doesn’t mean that I will absolutely get AS. Keeping your body healthy and free from toxins can help to prevent diseases, including AS.
If you already have AS you will find that yoga will really help you to gently strengthen and stretch your body. It will also help to relieve pain and improve your posture. Going to a class is best because the instructor will be trained in which poses are safe and helpful for AS. He or she can also make sure that you are doing the poses correctly.
You can also watch this video for poses that are safe and effective:
If you are not a fan of yoga, pilates is another option. It will also increase your strength, improve your posture and range of motion.
6. Lifting Weights
Strong muscles help to support weak joints. You can get a light set of dumbbells if you prefer working out at home, they are affordable and portable. Keep your reps (repetitions) between 8 and 12. If you cannot manage that in the beginning, that is fine, you will become stronger and be able to do more as you go on. You can do 1-4 sets per exercise. Only do what you can in the beginning.
Here are a few good ones to target your back and arms:
- Bent over row
- Dumbbell row
- Lateral raises (You can do these seated in the beginning and bend your elbows 90 degrees to make it easier)
- Shoulder press
- Seated biceps curl
- Dumbbell flyes (Do this on the ground. You can use a bench when you get stronger)
If you prefer going to the gym, you can use the machines to do a variety of exercise safely. Start with a low weight. A fitness instructor or preferably a personal trainer can help you to choose exercise and make sure that you are doing them correctly:
Important: Avoid lifting heavy weights, especially in the beginning.
7. Bodyweight Exercises
If you don’t like going to the gym and don’t like using weights, you can easily do bodyweight exercises, be sure to stick to the simple version until you become strong enough to try any other versions, it is best to avoid unstable versions:
- Hip bridge
- Wall sit
- Lateral standing leg raises (you can do these lying down too, keep your spine straight)
- Reverse leg raises (As you become stronger you can also keep your arms straight and lift the opposite arm to the leg you are raising. You can also do these standing up, hold on to the back of a chair for support)
- Plank (A high plank will be easier in the beginning. You can also do it against a counter or use a bench to lift your body into an incline to make it easier. Avoid the side plank until you are stronger)
Avoid these exercises:
- Forward leg lifts
8. Cardio for Ankylosing Spondylitis
Low impact cardio will get your heart rate going, improve your circulation, and improve your rib cage’s ability to move in and out as you breathe. It also gently exercises your muscles making them stronger, and helping you to move better. These are great options:
Avoid these exercises:
- Step aerobics
- Anything exercise that is jarring
9. Stretching for Ankylosing Spondylitis
Stretching is important to improve your range of motion and mobility. It is helpful to get an exercise ball although you can use a chair too. If you do get an exercise ball, make sure that it is the right size for your height. You should never sit lower than your knees or struggle to reach the floor. Here are the recommended approximate sizes for your height:
- 1.57 m or under (5 ft 2 or under): 45 cm
- 1.60 m to 1.72 m (5 ft 3 to 5 ft 8): 55 cm
- 1.75 m to 1.88 m (5 ft 9 to 6 ft 2): 65 cm
- 1.90 m and up (6 ft 3 and up): 75 cm to 85 cm
Some stretches that you can do without a ball:
- Chin tucks: Lie on a mat with your back straight, the back of your head touching the ground. Slowly tuck your chin into your chest, hold for a second or two and return to the starting position.
- Chest stretch: Stand in a doorway or corner with your arms out and your palms touching the wall on either side. Gently move your torso forward so that you feel a stretch in your chest muscles. Hold that stretch up to 30 seconds. Return to the starting position.
- Hip stretch: Go down on one knee, your front foot flat on the ground. Lean slightly forward, making sure that your front knee does not go over the toe until you feel a stretch in your hip (it will be in the back leg). If your knees are sore, use a cushion. Hold up to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
You can check out these stretches here for more variety. Be sure to do your stretches every day, including on your rest days.
Important: You are never meant to feel pain, just a slight stretch. Only stretch as far as you can go to achieve that slight stretch. Never force a stretch or jerk your body into the stretch, be gentle and controlled.
10. Sleeping Posture
Sleeping with your spine correctly aligned can help to reduce pain and assist you in correcting your posture as well. The best way to sleep is on your back with your legs straight. Ideally, you should be sleeping without a pillow or a very thin pillow. If this is uncomfortable for you, you can put a pillow or a rolled towel under your knees.
If you struggle to stay on your back, put pillows or rolled up towels on either side of you to keep you from rolling over.
If you cannot sleep on your back due to a condition like sleep apnea, for example, use a pillow that helps to keep your spine neutral, this means either using thick enough pillows or a pillow designed for correct spinal alignment, like this one.
- Look at yourself in the mirror or photographs to see your posture. Lie on your back in bed, take away your pillow, does your head touch the bed?
- You can also stand against a wall, if your heels, butt, shoulders, and the back of your head are not all touching the wall at the same time you have poor posture.
- Try to be aware of your posture and correct it as soon as you notice that you are hunching. Walk, sit, and stand up straight until it becomes second nature.
- Squat and lift objects with your legs and not your back. If you cannot squat, go down on one knee and pick up the object.
- Don’t sit for long periods of time. Position everything on your desk so that you don’t need to hunch to see, your computer screen must be in line with your eyes and your desk’s height must not cause your shoulders to rise.
- Use a straight, hardback or ergonomic chair, a pillow can provide lower back support. Make sure that your chairs, couches, and bed are not so soft that you sink into them.
- Breathing exercises, yoga, weights, bodyweight exercises, cardio, and stretches are all exercises that will benefit you.
- Avoid heavy weights and jarring exercises.
- Sleep on your back without a pillow beneath your head or a very thin pillow. A pillow under your knees can help if you feel uncomfortable.
Do you have AS? Which exercises do you find most helpful?