Awareness and AS
Raising awareness of ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is important to me as l believe it gives people a better understanding of how we can manage our condition, and lead a better life. I always say, AS lives with me – l do not live with AS. My hope is that with greater awareness, more people will adopt this same attitude and live happier lives. Social media is a great way for people to share their own coping mechanisms and daily exercise regimes. However, we must remember that AS affects us all differently and that we should always check that what we are doing is OK with our physiotherapist or consultant before doing so.
Even on the bad days, we should still do some gentle stretches but the important thing is to never overdo it.1 My motto is: ‘we should use it (movement), or we will lose it.’
A little can mean a lot
I had suffered from back pain and stiffness for nearly 8 years and was finally diagnosed with AS in the early 1980s. Sadly in that time of misdiagnoses, the damage had already been done to my spine and posture – but if you’ve recently been diagnosed there’s so much you can do to stay upright and walking tall. As time has passed since my diagnosis, I’ve had various treatments and I’ve even needed to have spinal correction surgery. Throughout all of this, I’ve taken on advice and tried out more and more in search of greater mobility and pain relief. I’ve slowly realised there is an exercise out there for everyone. When you suffer from a chronic illness, the smallest of movements can feel like real exercise. Well let me tell you, you’ve every right to consider those movements exercise, no matter how big or small they are. The key is not to push yourself too hard, but to give it a go. Of course, speak with your doctor before trying anything out for the first time.
Standing tall and posture checks
For us, exercise is a must–do along with taking our medications on a daily basis. It’s important we remember to exercise so we can carry our bodies through everyday tasks that other people may take for granted. I’m sure you’ve been told to ‘stand up straight’ – well, this is actually a really useful exercise to increase core strength and help better your posture.2 I can still hear the physios at RNHRD Bath (mentioned later in the article) saying “postures, darlings!”
Hopefully seeing yourself with perfect posture will inspire you to repeat the exercise. Seeing myself standing up straight lifts my mood as I get ready to take on the day’s challenges. I do regular posture checks throughout the day and always do a posture check before l leave the house. I even have a little mark on my wall to make sure l do not lose any more height.
Deep breathing is a great way to keep your ribcage flexible and maintain lung capacity.4 Plus, it makes me feel alive! I like to mix breathing exercises with routines to improve posture. I incorporate my breathing exercises whilst going about my daily tasks – by taking a deep breath and holding it for: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. I then repeat this 3 times. You can also find some breathing exercises on an app called Back To Action5 that l speak about later on in this article.
Walk your AS off!
If you haven’t heard of ‘Walk your AS off’, you have now. The organisation was founded by Jennifer Dye-Visscher to raise awareness of AS globally and encourage AS patients to take that extra step. It has brought so many AS patients together and you don’t have to go on lengthy walks to take part, something most AS patients could not manage anyway. You simply record your daily steps with a pedometer indoors and out, you then upload them online. The Orange Apples Team I am part of have been raising money for the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society (NASS). Other teams raise money for other charities and there are suggested AS-related charities for you to choose from on the ‘Walk your AS off’ website.6 My step count for the month of May 2015 was 204,905 which I’m pretty happy with! Walking at your own pace is great way to exercise and it is also good for your general health.7
Top tip: Much like the morning posture exercises I spoke about earlier, when walking remember to stand tall and do your breathing exercises.
If your disease is as advanced as mine, doing a few stretches throughout the day, regular walking, posture routines and breathing exercises are about all I can manage, but they are enough to make a difference. I do however have friends who partake in more varied exercises, why not see if any of these are right for you?
Exercise in the water: Swimming is a great resistance exercise,8 being in the water means the impact of movement on your body is far less than during normal exercise. Swimming can increase strength and flexibility and the NASS recommend front crawl,9 however front crawl may not be right for some AS patients depending on the progression of their disease. Please consult your doctor before attempting any swimming stroke.
Going a step further: Whilst you’re in the water – I’ve heard water aerobics is also great for flexibility 10 and strengthening key muscles. Some people even take it a step further and attend gym classes such as Body Balance or yoga.11 The most important thing of all, is to do what works for you.
I have attended the residential AS Courses at The Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases in Bath, England where l was shown some daily stretches to do in order to help keep good posture and movement, I couldn’t recommend them highly enough. l have also downloaded an app suggested by the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society website called Back To Action with exercises especially tailored for AS patients. Give it a go!
This article was written by one of the resident experts at ThisASLife.com. A social site, helping the whole AS community to: Learn. Share. Inspire. Discuss.
1: Most Effective Ankylosing Spondylitis Exercises. http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/ankylosing-spondylitis-exercises#2 last accessed 08.06.15.
2: Most Effective Ankylosing Spondylitis Exercises. http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/ankylosing-spondylitis-exercises last accessed 08.06.15.
3: Exercise taken from: Most Effective Ankylosing Spondylitis Exercises. http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/ankylosing-spondylitis-exercises#3 last accessed 08.06.15.
4: Deep-Breathing Exercises for Ankylosing Spondylitis. http://www.everydayhealth.com/ankylosing-spondylitis/deep-breathing-exercises-for-ankylosing-spondylitis.aspx last accessed 08.06.15.
5: Back To Action. http://nass.co.uk/exercise/exercise-for-your-as/back-to-action/ last accessed 08.06.15.
6: Fundraising. http://walkyourasoff.com/donate/fundraising/ last accessed 08.06.15.
7: The benefits of regular walking for health, well‐being and the environment. http://www.c3health.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/C3-report-on-walking-v-1-20120911.pdf last accessed 08.06.15.
8& 9: Swimming. http://nass.co.uk/exercise/exercise-for-your-as/swimming/ last accessed 08.06.15.
9: Swimming section. http://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tr4496 last accessed 08.06.15.
10: Hydrotherapy (aquatic physiotherapy) http://nass.co.uk/exercise/exercise-for-your-as/hydrotherapy-aquatic-physiotherapy/ last accessed 08.06.15.
11: Exercise classes. http://nass.co.uk/exercise/exercise-for-your-as/exercise-classes/ last accessed 08.06.15.