For those with ankylosing spondylitis, massages can help provide relief from muscle pain and stiffness.
If you’re like most people with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), you’re probably used to having pain in your lower back and other nearby areas. Even though there are over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help ease your pain and inflammation, they don’t always completely work. Sometimes massage therapy can help.
A Brief Overview of AS
AS is a kind of arthritis. Like all arthritis, it involves the inflammation of the joints and cartilage. But AS is different because it typically targets the tissues between the vertebrae in the spine, and the joints where the pelvis meets the spine.
Why It Hurts
AS causes inflammation in the lower back and pelvis, so joint pain is associated with the disease. In addition to joint pain, you’ll probably also develop muscle pain. Having joint pain and stiffness may lead you to alter the way you move, stand, sit, and lie down. When you start using these postures that are unnatural for your body, it puts extra strain on muscles that aren’t used to working so hard. Overworked muscles become tired, sore muscles.
Although it can’t really help with the joint pain, massage therapy can do wonders for muscle pain and stiffness. Different people will benefit from different types of massage, but most people seem to find that soft tissue massages work the best both to relieve symptoms and to eliminate stress. Your therapist may even use special oils to help with the inflammation.
Applying heat can also help calm muscle spasms. Applying ice can help reduce inflammation during a flare-up.
The benefits of massage vary from person to person, and even at different times for the same person. Some will enjoy reduced pain, less stress, and better mobility immediately after treatment. Others may need several massages before they begin to notice a difference. It may also depend on how long you’ve had AS, and how far it has progressed.
What to Watch Out For
Some people with AS don’t tolerate massages well — even the lightest touch can be painful for them. Others report that massages cause their AS symptoms to worsen. If you decide to try massage therapy, to pay close attention to your body and watch for any negative effects.
The bones in your spine shouldn’t be manipulated during massage therapy. This can lead to serious injury. Try to avoid deep tissue massage, especially if your symptoms are flaring. This more aggressive type of massage can be quite painful for those with AS.
Finding a Massage Therapist
There are a number of things you should keep in mind when looking for a massage therapist:
- Will your insurance cover massage therapy? If so, does this therapist take your insurance?
- What fees are involved, and do they differ according to type of massage? Are package rates available?
- Does the therapist have experience with AS, or other types of arthritis?
- What types of massage are offered?
- Is the therapist board certified? Do they belong to any professional organizations?
- What should you expect? What clothes should you wear, and what parts of your body will be covered?
Your primary care doctor or rheumatologist may know of massage therapists who specialize in therapeutic massage for people with arthritis. If not, take the time and call around. Massage therapy can be an important part of your treatment, so make sure you find the right therapist for you.