Managing ankylosing spondylitis means controlling symptoms like morning stiffness and back pain. Try these strategies for natural pain relief.
One of the most frustrating things about ankylosing spondylitis is experiencing pain not from exertion but from doing nothing more than trying to get a good night’s sleep.
Back pain — the most common symptom of ankylosing spondylitis — and stiffness get worse with rest, so they’re probably at their worst in the morning, just when you want to get your day started. You might also have pain and stiffness in other areas of your body, such as your neck, shoulders, hips, or feet.
While it’s important to work with your doctor to find the best medications for ankylosing spondylitis, there are also some natural pain-relief strategies to help manage back pain and other symptoms, and you can use many of them every day:
1. Exercise and stretching. “If you have ankylosing spondylitis, you need to stay active to maintain your flexibility,” says Rochella Ostrowski, MD, an associate professor in the division of allergy, immunology, and rheumatology at Loyola Medicine in Maywood, Illinois. “The best exercises are those that avoid high impact.” She suggests working with a physical therapist to get started. A physical therapist can design the right exercise and stretching program for you, including when to work out. Later in the day when you’re less stiff may be the best time.
2. Good posture. “Check your posture frequently at home and at work,” Dr. Ostrowski says. “Make sure you’re well-aligned and that you do gentle range-of-motion exercises often to avoid long periods of immobility.” Reinforce good posture by regularly checking your alignment against a wall. You don’t want your spine to stiffen into a bent position, so aim for tall and straight.
3. Good posture in bed. “Sleep posture is also important,” Ostrowski says. “You need a firm bed and a pillow that supports your neck properly. Avoid a pillow that’s too high. Sleeping on your belly is best for your posture, but some people can only sleep on their side or back.” If you’re in that group, try spending a few minutes of your awake time practicing “prone lying”. This involves lying face down on a firm surface. For comfort, you can turn your head from side to side. This exercise helps promote better daily posture. Work up to 20-minute sessions to help with back pain relief.