Low impact exercises are gentle on the joints and minimise strain while still providing significant health benefits.
Living with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a rare and chronic type of inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the spine, can be challenging. Stiffness and pain are common symptoms that can limit mobility and impact daily activities. There is no known cure for AS, however, incorporating regular exercise into your routine can help manage the symptoms of AS and improve overall well-being.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore a variety of low impact exercises that are beneficial for individuals living with ankylosing spondylitis. These exercises focus on improving flexibility, strengthening core muscles, and reducing pain and stiffness. We will delve into the benefits of each exercise, provide step-by-step instructions, and address frequently asked questions about exercising with AS. So, let’s get started!
Regular exercise plays a crucial role in managing the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis. It helps maintain flexibility, improve posture, strengthen muscles, enhance cardiovascular health, and reduce pain and stiffness. Exercise also promotes mental well-being by reducing stress and improving mood. It is important to note that before starting any exercise program, you should consult with your healthcare provider or a qualified physical therapist to ensure it is safe and suitable for your specific condition.
The Benefits of Low Impact Exercises For Ankylosing Spondylitis
Low impact exercises are gentle on the joints and minimise strain while still providing significant health benefits. They are particularly beneficial for individuals with ankylosing spondylitis as they help reduce pain, increase flexibility, and improve overall joint function. Let’s explore some of the best low impact exercises for ankylosing spondylitis.
1. Stretching Exercises
Stretching exercises are essential for maintaining flexibility and reducing muscle stiffness in individuals with ankylosing spondylitis. These exercises help improve the range of motion in the affected joints and minimise the risk of fusion. Incorporating stretching exercises into your routine can help alleviate pain and increase overall mobility. Here are some examples of stretching exercises that can be beneficial for individuals with ankylosing spondylitis:
a. Spine Stretch
The spine stretch exercise helps counteract the shortening of the spine and back muscles that often occurs in individuals with ankylosing spondylitis. To perform this exercise:
- Lie on your stomach with your legs extended behind you.
- Prop yourself up on your elbows, lifting your chest off the ground.
- If possible, straighten your arms, pushing your upper body higher.
- Hold this position for 10 to 20 seconds, gradually increasing the duration as you become more comfortable.
- Repeat this exercise 3 to 5 times, ideally once a day.
b. Neck Stretches
Neck stretches can help improve the range of motion in the neck and alleviate stiffness and discomfort. Here are a few simple neck stretches that you can incorporate into your routine:
- Tuck your chin towards your chest, feeling a gentle stretch in the back of your neck. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then release.
- Slowly tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear towards your shoulder. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.
- Gently rotate your head in a circular motion, starting from one side and moving clockwise or counterclockwise. Perform this movement for 10 seconds, then reverse the direction.
Remember to perform these stretches slowly and gently, avoiding any sudden or jerky movements. If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop the exercise and consult your healthcare provider.
2. Core Strengthening Exercises
Core muscles play a crucial role in providing stability and support to the spine. Strengthening these muscles can help improve posture, reduce lower back pain, and enhance overall mobility. Here are a few low impact core strengthening exercises that individuals with ankylosing spondylitis can benefit from:
a. Bridge Exercise
The bridge exercise targets the muscles in your core, glutes, and lower back. To perform this exercise:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Slowly lift your hips off the ground, pushing through your heels and engaging your glutes.
- Hold this position for a few seconds, then lower your hips back down to the starting position.
- Repeat this exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions, gradually increasing the number of repetitions as you become stronger.
b. Plank Exercise
The plank exercise is an effective way to strengthen your core muscles without putting excessive strain on your spine. To perform a plank:
- Start in a push-up position, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your toes on the ground.
- Engage your core muscles and maintain a straight line from your head to your heels.
- Hold this position for as long as you can, aiming for at least 30 seconds.
- Gradually increase the duration as you build strength and stability.
3. Cardiovascular Exercises For Ankylosing Spondylitis
Cardiovascular exercises, also known as aerobic exercises, are vital for maintaining heart health and improving overall fitness. They increase heart rate, improve lung function, and promote circulation. Incorporating cardiovascular exercises into your routine can help reduce inflammation, boost energy levels, and improve overall well-being. Here are some low impact cardiovascular exercises suitable for individuals with ankylosing spondylitis:
Walking is a simple and accessible form of cardiovascular exercise that can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. Start with short walks and gradually increase the duration and intensity as tolerated. Aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking most days of the week.
Swimming is a low impact exercise that provides a full-body workout while minimizing stress on the joints. It helps improve cardiovascular fitness, strengthens muscles, and enhances flexibility. Consider swimming laps or participating in water aerobics classes to reap the benefits of this exercise.
Cycling, whether outdoors or on a stationary bike, is a great low impact exercise option for individuals with ankylosing spondylitis. It helps improve cardiovascular fitness, strengthens leg muscles, and increases overall endurance. Start with short cycling sessions and gradually increase the duration and intensity.
4. Balance and Posture Exercises
Maintaining good balance and posture is essential for individuals with ankylosing spondylitis. Balance exercises help improve stability and reduce the risk of falls, while posture exercises promote proper alignment and reduce strain on the spine. Here are a few exercises to incorporate into your routine:
a. Standing Leg Raises
Standing leg raises help improve balance and strengthen the muscles around the hips and lower back. To perform this exercise:
- Stand behind a chair or use a railing for support.
- Keep your back straight and slightly bend your knees.
- Slowly lift one leg out to the side, a few inches off the ground.
- Lower the leg back down and repeat on the other side.
- Aim for 10 to 15 repetitions on each leg, gradually increasing the number of repetitions as you become more comfortable.
b. Wall Angel Exercise
The wall angel exercise helps improve posture and strengthen the muscles in the upper back. To perform this exercise:
- Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Gently slide your back down the wall, bending your knees slightly.
- Place your arms against the wall, with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle and your palms facing forward
- Slowly raise your arms overhead, keeping them in contact with the wall at all times.
- Lower your arms back down to the starting position and repeat for 10 to 15 repetitions.
Hydrotherapy, also known as water therapy, is a gentle and effective exercise option for individuals with ankylosing spondylitis. Exercising in water provides buoyancy, which reduces the pressure on the joints and allows for greater range of motion. Consider swimming, water aerobics, or simply walking in a pool to experience the benefits of hydrotherapy.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1. Can exercise worsen the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis?
Exercise is generally beneficial for individuals with ankylosing spondylitis. However, it is essential to listen to your body and avoid activities that cause pain or discomfort. If you experience an increase in symptoms or new pain after exercising, consult your healthcare provider for guidance.
Q2. How often should I exercise?
It is recommended to engage in low impact exercises for ankylosing spondylitis at least three to five times per week. Start with shorter durations and gradually increase the intensity and duration as tolerated. Remember to listen to your body and take rest days when needed.
Q3. Can I exercise during an AS flare-up?
During an AS flare-up, it is essential to focus on managing pain and inflammation. You may need to modify your exercise routine or take a break until the flare subsides. Consult your healthcare provider for personalized recommendations during flare-ups.
Q4. Are there any exercises I should avoid with ankylosing spondylitis?
High-impact activities, such as running or jumping, can put excessive strain on the joints and may worsen symptoms in individuals with ankylosing spondylitis. It is generally advisable to avoid activities that cause pain or discomfort. Consult your healthcare provider for specific exercise recommendations based on your condition.
Q5. Can I exercise on my own, or should I seek professional guidance?
While it is possible to exercise on your own, seeking guidance from a qualified physical therapist or exercise specialist can be beneficial. They can provide personalised exercise programs, ensure proper form and technique, and make adjustments based on your individual needs and limitations.
Incorporating low impact exercises into your routine can significantly improve the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis. Stretching exercises, core strengthening exercises, cardiovascular exercises, balance and posture exercises, and hydrotherapy are all excellent options for individuals with AS. Remember to start slowly, listen to your body, and consult with your healthcare provider or a qualified professional to ensure safe and effective exercise practices. Stay consistent, be patient, and enjoy the benefits of a regular exercise routine in managing ankylosing spondylitis.
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