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.

Massage Therapy

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.

Read Video Transcript »

Ankylosing Spondylitis: Much More Than Back Pain

Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis caused by inflammation of the joints.

Patients often begin experiencing painful symptoms in early adulthood, including aches and stiffness in the lower back and hips. These are often the worst after periods of inactivity or immediately after waking up.

Unlike typical back pain one might experience from injury or spending too many hours in a chair, ankylosing spondylitis can affect other joints, particularly joints in the spine at the lower back and pelvis. The hip and shoulder joints can also be affected as well.

The vertebrae in the back are of particular concern because, if left untreated, these joints can fuse together. This can cause a person to have a hunched over posture and may affect a person’s ability to breathe.

While many patients endure these painful symptoms for up to 10 years before receiving a proper diagnosis, those who work with their doctors to find proper treatment experience a much greater quality of life.

Experts agree that ankylosing spondylitis and other related diseases can run in families, so if you have relatives with a history of immune problems, you may be more likely to develop ankylosing spondylitis.

If you’re experiencing lasting pain for more than three months that feels worse in the morning and better with movement, you should talk to your doctor about ankylosing spondylitis as the potential cause of your symptoms.

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you about your symptoms and whether you have a history of injuries in the affected joints. Your doctor may order imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, to get a better look at what’s causing your pain. You can also expect a simple blood test to check for signs of inflammation, as well as to rule out other potential illnesses.

Your family doctor may initially diagnose you with inflammatory back pain, and refer you to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in medicine related to joints and autoimmune diseases. As ankylosing spondylitis is not associated with mechanical issues that occur with injury-related back pain, it cannot be simply remedied with surgery and requires other therapies.

While scientists continue to look for a cure for ankylosing spondylitis, there are many effective therapies that can relieve pain, improve dexterity, and delay advanced complications, such as joint damage.

Doctors often rely on drugs to reduce the painful and destructive joint inflammation with ankylosing spondylitis. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDs, and TNF, or tumor necrosis factor, blockers. TNF blockers are part of class of medications called biologics that suppress aspects of the body’s inflammatory response and may slow the progression of ankylosing spondylitis.

Many patients also benefit from regular exercises with a physical therapist. Patients often find that stretching and rage-of-motion exercises, such as yoga or pilates, can help relieve pain, increase flexibility in joints, and improve physical strength.

Ankylosing spondylitis may be a lifelong condition, but it doesn’t have to be a life-limiting one.

Working closely with your doctor about latest treatments and making smart lifestyle choices can help keep painful symptoms at bay so you can live your life as you see fit.

To learn more about Ankylosing Spondylitis, take a look at the information we have here at Healthline or make an appointment with your doctor.