Most Effective Ankylosing Spondylitis Exercises

Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory condition that can cause the ligaments, joint capsule, and tendons that attach to the spine to swell (enthesitis). Over time, this can lead to bone formation and possible fusing of the vertebrae. This type of arthritis can result in a loss of flexibility.

The good news is that regular exercise — even 5 to 10 minutes each day — can increase flexibility and strengthen muscles that support the back and neck. Practicing good posture techniques also can help you look and feel much better.

Getting started

To make exercise part of your daily routine, choose a time of day that works for you. Create a comfortable exercise space and wear loose-fitting clothing.

Begin with the easiest exercises and warm up slowly. Don’t overdo it: If your pain level increases, end your session. If exercise is making your condition worse, discontinue your routine and report it to your doctor.

Always consult with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

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Standing posture

You should perform this exercise in front of a full-length mirror. Start by standing with your heels about four inches away from a wall. Keep your shoulders and buttocks as close to the wall as possible without straining. Hold this position for five seconds.

Check your posture in the mirror and think about how it feels to stand straight and tall. Relax, then repeat 10 times.

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Lying posture

You should perform this exercise on a firm surface. Use your bed if it has a firm mattress, or place a mat on the floor. Lie face down for 15 to 20 minutes. (If you can’t do this comfortably, you may use a pillow under your chest and place your forehead on a folded towel.) You may keep your head downward, turn it to one side, or alternate sides.

You may not be able to do this for 20 consecutive minutes. That’s fine. Begin with whatever feels comfortable and increase the time as you gain strength.

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Inflammation due to ankylosing spondylitis can cause decreased chest expansion. The breaststroke specifically can help build and maintain chest expansion. Swimming in general is a great way to increase flexibility in your spine without jarring it. It also helps to increase flexibility in your neck, shoulders, and hips. You may find it easier to perform aerobic exercises while in the pool.

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Deep breathing

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Deep breathing helps you to increase and maintain your lung capacity, and can help keep your rib cage flexible.

To start, sit or lie down and observe your normal breath. Take a slow, deep breath. You should feel air enter through your nose and move toward your lower belly. Allow your abdomen to expand fully.

Breathe out through your mouth or nose. With one hand on your abdomen, feel it rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Alternate normal and deep breaths a few times.

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Yoga can help ease pain and increase flexibility. Many people find that yoga helps reduce stress and tension and promote restful sleep. If you’re new to yoga, don’t attempt to learn on your own. Find a class for beginners and stick with gentle poses. As your range of motion increases, you may want to try more advanced levels.

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Walking posture

Pay attention to how you walk. Aim to keep your spine as straight as possible, with your shoulders squared and your head held high. In other words, think tall! You can test and correct your posture throughout the day by standing with your back against a wall. Your head, shoulders, buttocks, and heels should touch the wall at the same time.

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Sitting posture

If your job requires you to sit at a desk all day, it may be worth it to invest in an ergonomic chair. Make sure it’s well designed and doesn’t encourage a slumped or stooped position. Just like your walking posture, try to sit with your spine as straight as possible. Keep your shoulders squared and your head held high. Check and correct your sitting posture throughout the day.

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Sleeping posture

Sleep with your spine straight, if possible. To encourage this position, your mattress should be firm, but not too hard. Sleep on your stomach if you can, and don’t use a pillow. Alternatively, you can sleep on your back and use a thin pillow, or one designed to support your neck. Avoid sleeping with your legs curled and keep them as straight as you can.

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Bonus exercise tips

Keep these tips in mind for best results:

  • It might be easier to exercise or perform deep breathing after a warm bath or shower.
  • Check on and correct your posture throughout the day.
  • Don’t perform strenuous exercises when you’re having a flare-up.
  • Always begin with gentle exercises and increase the intensity only if you’re not in pain.
  • Increase exercise frequency as tolerated.
  • If pain increases due to exercise, discontinue and consult with your doctor.


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