Overview

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of chronic arthritis that can cause inflammation of the ligaments, joint capsules, and tendons that attach to your spine. Over time, this inflammatory response can lead to excess bone formation and the fusing of vertebrae. This results in pain and a loss of flexibility.

There’s no cure for AS, but treatment can minimize pain and inflammation. Keep reading to learn about 11 different treatment options for AS.

Stretching and range-of-motion exercises can help with flexibility and pain relief. Even when your joints are mildly inflamed, you can perform stretching. Building stronger muscles around joints will help support them.

People with AS sometimes develop a hunched-forward posture, but exercises that stretch the back can decrease your chances of long-term disability. Exercise and water aerobics can also be beneficial.

Yoga is known to increase flexibility and range of motion. It also helps to ease stress and tension, leading to increased relaxation and more restful sleep.

If you haven’t practiced yoga before, start with a beginner’s class. Gentle poses will slowly increase your flexibility. You can increase your activity level gradually and at your own pace.

Good posture can decrease your chances of complications. But having and maintaining good posture throughout the day isn’t always easy.

To start, check your posture in a full-length mirror and think tall! Your chin should be horizontal and parallel to the floor, centered, and slightly drawn back. Your shoulders should be pulled back. Sleeping on a firm, but not too hard bed can also reinforce good posture.

If you’re intimidated or nervous about exercising, you may want to consider seeing a physical therapist. They can help tailor a program suited to your specific needs.

They can also provide instruction on:

  • range-of-motion exercises
  • good stretching techniques
  • deep breathing exercises
  • proper sleep positions
  • correct walking habits
  • upright posture

A physical therapist can also check for a difference in the length of your legs, which may impact your exercise routine.

Looking for instant relief? Cold can help numb pain, while hot showers and relaxing, warm baths can soothe tight, aching muscles.

Apply an ice pack to inflamed joints to help ease swelling. A hot towel or a heating pad may help relieve stiffness and get you through flare-ups.

What you eat can also help your AS. Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to reduce joint inflammation in some people with rheumatoid arthritis. They may also help those with AS.

Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • flaxseed
  • walnuts
  • soybean, canola, and flaxseed oils
  • Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens
  • cold-water fish, including salmon and tuna

Massage therapy can:

  • reduce stress
  • provide short-term pain relief
  • lessen stiffness
  • increase flexibility

A massage is supposed to make you and your body feel better. However, some people with AS find that massages only increase their pain and discomfort. To avoid this, make sure your massage therapist knows you have AS. If you still feel uncomfortable, stop massage therapy and ask your doctor for another treatment method.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice. It involves the use of thin needles to puncture the skin at particular points.

Studies show that acupuncture can reduce pain. It’s likely because the brain releases opioid- or opium-like molecules during the practice.

In most states, acupuncturists must pass a national board certification examination. Some states require a doctoral degree from an approved college. You can learn more about the requirements through your state’s medical board.

Many with AS find that chiropractic treatment helps relieve pain. However, it’s important to see a chiropractor who has experience treating those with AS.

Sometimes, chiropractic treatment can inadvertently lead to complications. Discuss with your doctor whether chiropractic treatment is right for you before you begin.

Simple lifestyle changes may not be enough. Your doctor or rheumatologist may prescribe or suggest medications.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often the first-line treatment for those with AS. If these aren’t effective, your doctor will likely suggest a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitor.

Genetically engineered medications, which mimic human molecules, block proteins that can promote inflammation. These drugs are given intravenously or by self-injection and include:

Most people who have AS will never need surgery. However, surgery may be recommended for people who have severe disability or pain.

Talk to your doctor about all your treatment options before going through surgery.

AS can be a painful and debilitating condition, but there are ways to reduce pain, manage symptoms, and prevent disability.

As always, get approval from a doctor who understands your condition before beginning a new exercise routine, changing your diet, getting an alternative treatment, or taking a new medication.