Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis characterized by pain and inflammation of the spine and pelvic region. This condition can also cause sections of the spine to grow and fuse together, resulting in stiffness and immobility.
Even though there’s no cure for AS, anti-inflammatory medications, over-the-counter pain relievers, immunosuppressants, and biologics (drugs that target specific proteins causing inflammation) can help control symptoms. But even if you take prescribed medication to improve your quality of life, there are a few lifestyle choices that may worsen symptoms.
1. Sedentary lifestyle
When you’re living with chronic back pain, exercise may seem impossible, but leading a sedentary lifestyle could aggravate symptoms. Physical activity can help improve joint flexibility and lessen the pain and stiffness caused by AS.
You don’t have to engage in high-impact activity to feel better, but you should add some physical activity to your daily or weekly schedule.
Aim for about 30 minutes of activity at least five days a week. Things to try include swimming, biking, walking, and strength training (Pilates, tai chi, yoga).
Ask your doctor for activity recommendations before beginning an exercise regimen.
2. Poor posture
Poor posture can also worsen AS. Keep your body properly aligned to strengthen your back muscles, help prevent anterior flexion deformity (where your spine is fixed in a stooped position), and alleviate pain.
Resolve to practice good posture, whether you’re sitting or standing. When sitting in a chair, your back should be straight, your shoulders should be back, and your buttocks should be touching the back of your chair. Keep your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your feet flat on the floor.
Practice good posture while standing the old fashion way: Walk around with a book on your head. This teaches you how to stand tall with your body aligned.
Studies such as this one have found a link between smoking and disease activity in people with AS. This study followed nonsmokers and smokers living with AS (a total of 30 people). According to researchers, smokers with AS reported longer bouts of morning stiffness, higher disease activity, and a poorer quality of life compared with their nonsmoking counterparts.
This could be due to the inflammatory effect smoking has on the body. These researchers believe that smoking cessation should be included in treatment plans for AS.
4. Doing too much
Because this condition can cause inflammation, stiffness, and joint pain, it’s important that you don’t overdo it and learn how to recognize your limitations. Failure to pace yourself could result in burnout, or you might engage in activities that put too much strain on your joints. This can make it harder for your body to recover and trigger long-term stiffness and joint immobility.
So, while activity is recommended, pace yourself. Listen to your body and rest when you feel tired or burnt out.