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Ankylosing Spondylitis: Managing Muscle Pain with Massage Therapy

Medically reviewed by Gregory Minnis, DBT on March 13, 2017Written by Stephanie Pierce on December 12, 2014

For those with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), massages may provide relief from muscle pain and stiffness.

If you’re like most people with AS, you’re probably used to having pain in your lower back and other nearby areas. Even though certain over-the-counter and prescription medications can ease your pain and inflammation, they may not be enough. Sometimes massage therapy can help.

A brief overview of AS

AS is a kind of arthritis. Like all arthritis, it involves inflammation of your joints and cartilage. But AS is different because it typically targets the tissues between the vertebrae in your spine and the joints where your pelvis meets your spine.

Why it hurts

In addition to joint pain caused by inflammation, you may 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 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.

The benefits of massage therapy

Massage therapy can do wonders for muscle pain and stiffness. Different people will benefit from different types of massage, but most seem to find that soft tissue massages work the best to both relieve symptoms and eliminate stress. Your therapist may even use special oils to help with the inflammation.

Applying heat can also reduce muscle tension and alleviate pain. Applying ice can 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, 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

You should keep in mind a number of things 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 to call around. Massage therapy can be an important part of your treatment, so make sure you find the right therapist for you.

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