Exercises for Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic (long-lasting) type of inflammatory arthritis. It mainly affects the spine, but it can also affect other joints, tendons, ligaments, vital organs, and the eyes. Stiffness and pain are the two most common symptoms. 

AS affects around 1 percent of the United States population. Men are more likely to develop AS. There is no known cause of AS, but researchers think genetics play a part, specifically the HLA-B27 gene.

AS can be a very serious condition, especially when new bone forms and fills gaps between the vertebrae (small bones forming the spine). These areas will eventually become stiff and difficult to move and bend. This process may also affect the rib cage and cause lung and breathing problems. 

The Spondylitis Association of America (SAA) notes “most people with spondylitis say they feel much better after exercise.” They recommend at least 5 to 10 minutes of exercise daily for people with AS.

The following exercises may help people with AS manage flexibility, improve strength, and reduce back pain and stiffness.

Stretching the Spine

AS is known for shortening the spine and back muscles. Using a press-up method to strengthen the spine can lessen shortening, reduce back pain, and improve muscle strength.

To stretch the spine, lie on your stomach with your legs behind you. Slowly prop up with your elbows, pulling the chest off the ground. If possible, straighten the arms as if you are doing a push-up. Hold for at least 10 seconds and for no more than 20 seconds. Repeat up to 5 times once daily.

Standing Posture

This exercise is best done in front of a full-length mirror. Stand with heels about 4 inches away from a wall. Shoulders and buttocks should be as close to the wall as possible. Stand straight and tall and hold the position for five seconds. Relax and repeat 10 times. Check posture in the mirror and add aim to stand straight and tall.

Wall Sitting

This exercise helps strengthen muscles in the back, shoulder, neck, buttocks, and hips. Start by standing with your back against a wall. Feet should be shoulder-width apart and away from the wall. Slide the back slowly down the wall to the point where the thighs are parallel to the floor, as if in a sitting position. Hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat up to five times. Try this exercise at least 3 times a week. 

Leg Raises

Use a chair or railing for support with this exercise. Keep the back straight and slightly bend knees. Slowly lift one leg to the side a few inches off the grown. Then lower back. Make sure you are maintaining good posture. Bring that same leg back up behind you in a 45-degree angle and hold for a few seconds. Avoid bending over. Repeat 10 times for each leg. Do this exercise up to 5 times a week.

Chin Tucks 

Chin tucks can help strengthen the neck and loosen stiffness. For comfort and support, tuck a small rolled up towel under the neck.

Lie on the back and without lifting your head, tuck the chin towards the chest. Hold the position for up to 10 seconds. Repeat this exercise up to 5 times. Try this exercise a couple times daily.

Shoulder Rolls

Shoulder rolls require you to stand or sit tall. It is important to keep the spine as straight as you can without discomfort.

Gently shrug the shoulders towards the ears and move back down. If you are doing this exercise right, you will feel a tug in the upper back. Take a 5-second break between shoulder shrugs and repeat up to 10 times. This is an easy exercise that can be done daily and without changing your routine. Try while sitting at your desk or stand up and stretch your legs afterward. 

Corner Stretch

Stand in a corner facing forward. Open the arms up, extend them across, and rest the palms of the hands on the wall. Gently press the chest forward toward the corner. This stretch should be felt in the chest and upper arms. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds. Take a short 10-second break and try up to five times, once daily.

Walking, Running, Cycling

Walking, running, and cycling are all easy exercises for people with AS. Try to get in 30 or more minutes a day. It is okay to start with only 5 or 10 minutes daily. It all adds up and you will get stronger and able to do more with time.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing will expand and improve lung capacity and keep the rib cage flexible. Several times day, try taking several deep breaths. Pull the air deep into your chest as you inhale. Exhale slowly.

Swimming

Swimming is a great way to increase flexibility of the spine, neck, shoulders, and hips. It is also easier to do aerobic exercises in a pool.

A Word From Verywell

It is a good idea for everyone, including people with AS, to make exercise part of their daily schedule. Start out with the easiest exercises for shorter periods and ease into harder ones for longer times. Of course, don’t overdo it. If exercise is making your symptoms worse, stop exercising and talk to your doctor. It is also important to consult with your doctor anytime you start a new exercise program.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources