Living With Axial Spondyloarthritis

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Living with axial spondyloarthritis involves more than managing your symptoms with regular doctor's visits and medications. Joint pain and stiffness that occur with this autoimmune disease will likely interfere with other aspects of your life.

This means you might have to change the way you perform daily tasks, job duties, or participate in your favorite leisure activities. Positive coping strategies can help improve your quality of life.

This article discusses strategies for managing the emotional and social challenges that can occur with axial spondyloarthritis.

young man feeling backache at a park

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Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder such as axial spondyloarthritis can be overwhelming. In addition to physical symptoms of pain and stiffness, emotional challenges are also common.

It's normal to feel a range of negative emotions—sadness, anger, grief, fear, or even hopelessness—when you first learn you have a medical condition. If you are a teen or younger adult, you might even feel a bit surprised to be dealing with a medical condition at your age.

However, if your emotional challenges start to interfere with your daily life, you might need professional help. Research has shown that many people with axial spondyloarthritis also have high levels of anxiety and clinical depression.

Talk to your doctor if you've lost interest in activities you typically enjoy or notice that you feel sad every day. Your doctor might suggest talk therapy or medications to help you manage what you're going through.

Age of Onset

Axial spondyloarthritis can show up as early as the teenage years, and this condition rarely is diagnosed past the age of 45 years.


Working on various lifestyle factors can help relieve some of the pain or discomfort associated with axial spondyloarthritis. These include engaging in appropriate, low-impact exercises, eating foods less likely to cause inflammation, getting quality sleep, and not smoking.


Exercise can go a long way in managing physical symptoms caused by axial spondyloarthritis. Low-impact activities such as swimming and walking can help you manage joint stiffness that often occurs with this condition. As an added bonus, exercise can also boost your mood and reduce stress levels.

Exercise may help with weight management, as well. If you are overweight or obese, lowering your weight can reduce pressure on your painful joints.

Be Aware of Overexercising

Unfortunately, doing the wrong types of exercise can make your symptoms worse. For example, high-impact activities, such as running, cause additional stress to your inflamed joints, which can cause significant pain and increase muscle stiffness.

Because axial spondyloarthritis affects the spine, it can lead to poor posture that continues to worsen over time. This can lead to other problems, including difficulty breathing. A physical therapist can teach you daily exercises to help maintain your mobility, stretch tight muscles, and strengthen weak muscles to help manage your symptoms.


While there isn't a specific diet that's recommended for axial spondyloarthritis, your food choices could be impacting your symptoms.

Some foods, such as red meat, have been shown to increase inflammation levels in the body. Other foods either don't have an impact on inflammation levels or contain antioxidants that actually help reduce inflammation. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to see if an anti-inflammatory diet is appropriate for you.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Gut inflammation often affects people with axial spondyloarthritis. In some cases, this can lead to inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. If you frequently experience any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor. Diet changes that can reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life might be recommended.

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sores in your mouth
  • Blood or mucus in your stool


Getting good sleep can be difficult with axial spondyloarthritis. You might find that it's hard to get comfortable with your back pain. Several tips can help:

  • Take your medications as prescribed.
  • Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Get your exercise earlier in the day.
  • Avoid caffeine in the evening.

Smoking Cessation

If you smoke, talk to your doctor about quitting. Research has shown that tobacco increases inflammation in the body and directly impacts the symptoms of axial spondyloarthritis.

Smoking also can increase the number of symptoms you have, make your pain and stiffness worse, and increase your risk of having more symptoms at a younger age.


Autoimmune diseases can have a significant impact on your social life. Pain can make it difficult for you to be active and participate in your typical leisure activities, which can add more stress to your life. Emotional challenges might even take away your desire to be social.

Talk to your friends and family members about your challenges and brainstorm ways to spend time together that don't make your symptoms worse. Consider joining a support group—either online or in person (or maybe even both). See a counselor for talk therapy.

Several techniques can also be helpful for reducing pain and stress that negatively impact your social life. These include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Guided imagery
  • Meditation
  • Visualization
  • Nature walks


In addition to the physical symptoms of axial spondyloarthritis, this autoimmune condition also comes with emotional and social challenges. Coping strategies, including exercise, healthy diet, good sleep, stress management techniques, and support groups, can help.

A Word From Verywell

It's normal to have ups and downs when you're living with axial spondyloarthritis. But by taking steps towards finding physical and emotional relief, you can live your best life. Seek support from family, friends, and other people living with this condition, and follow the advice of your healthcare providers.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Koning A de, Schoones JW, Heijde D van der, Gaalen FA van. Pathophysiology of axial spondyloarthritis: Consensus and controversies. European Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2018;48(5):e12913. doi:10.1111/eci.12913

  3. National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society. Exercise.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. 5 foods that can cause inflammation.

  5. National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society. Your gut.

  6. Arthritis Foundation: 6 self-care tips for axSpA.

  7. Kaut IK, Abourazzak FE, Jamila E, Sènami FA, Diketa D, Taoufik H. Axial spondyloarthritis and cigarette smoking. Open Rheumatol J. 2017;11:53-61. doi:10.2174%2F1874312901711010053

  8. Arthritis Foundation. Spondyloarthritis.

By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.