Although there is no cure for Ankylosing Spondylitis, there are ways to cope with the pain that is a ‘part and parcel’ of this disorder.
A form of arthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, largely affects the spine. However, there are instances where other joints are also affected. The vertebrae become inflamed in this disease which leads to chronic and severe pain, and causes discomfort. Sometimes, in most advanced cases, the inflammation can cause the formation of new bone on the spine. This formation can result in a forward-stooped posture. Kyphosis is the term used to describe this forward curvature of the spine.
Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) predominantly affects younger people aged between 20 and 40 years. This disorder is more common in men than women. The main symptoms are chronic pain and stiffness in the lower back. The other areas of the body that can also be affected include the shoulders, ribs, and heels, smaller joints of the hands and feet, and hips. People with this disease experience severe pain while they are resting, but physical activity seems to relieve some of it.
The exact causes of Ankylosing Spondylitis are not known. However, research indicates that genetics does play a role. In other words, the risk is more for people who have a family history of AS. The severity of this disease differs from one person to the other. Not all of the cases will have serious complications or a spinal fusion. Some people experience sporadic pain in the back while others go through severe pain for a long period of time. One of the most distinguishing characteristic of AS is acute painful periods termed as ‘flares’. This is followed by short-lived episodes of remission where the symptoms recede.
AS is a lifelong disease that has no cure. The treatment plans mainly include medications and therapy that can mitigate the symptoms and the pain. The patients are also encouraged to change their diet with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables which are non-inflammatory in nature. There are a number of supplements that help reduce the pain and inflammation in AS patients like omega 3 fish oil, turmeric, tart cherry extract, etc.
Although these treatments help patients with their symptoms, what is exasperating is that the pain is not caused by any physical activity. It is caused by resting. Given below are 9 natural strategies that help cope with the pain and discomfort.
It is important to maintain a good posture because you do not want your spine to harden into a bent position.
Exercise: Start off by standing in front of a mirror in such a way that your heels are around four inches away from the wall. The next step is to keep your buttocks and shoulders as close to the wall as is physically possible. Do not strain yourself. While looking in the mirror, hold this position for five seconds. Repeat this several times but relax after each turn.
Dr. Rochella Ostrowski, MD, who is an assistant professor of rheumatology at the Loyola University Health System in Maywood, says, “Check your posture frequently at home and at work. Make sure you are well-aligned and that you do gentle range-of-motion exercises to avoid long periods of immobility.”
As it is important to maintain a good posture while standing, it is equally important to maintain a good posture while sleeping or lying down.
Exercise: It is advised that this exercise be performed on a firm surface. Lie face down on the said surface for about 15-20 minutes. It is your choice whether you keep your head down or move it to one side. If this posture is not comfortable, you can place a pillow under your chest. You may not be able to do this continuously for the specified time. Do not be disheartened. Start with whatever is convenient for you and then keep increasing the time as you gain strength.
The best posture for people suffering from AS is sleeping on their stomach. A pillow that properly supports the neck and a firm bed is the need of the hour.
People with AS tend to lose their flexibility over a period of time. They also need to maintain their physical fitness. Dr. Ostrowski says, “If you have ankylosing spondylitis, you need to stay active to maintain your flexibility. The best exercises are those that avoid high impact.” She advises patients to start working with a personal trainer or a physical therapist. The fitness professionals are those who help design your very own fitness regime; a program of exercise and stretching that is right for you. They might also help you decide the ideal time in the day for you to start working out. The best time would be later in the day as you will be stiff in the mornings.
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