At times, your ankylosing spondylitis healthcare team might echo a nagging relative: “Stand up straight,” they demand.
But this advice comes with good reason. If not properly treated, over time constant inflammation can cause some of the vertebrae in your spine to fuse together, resulting in a stooped posture, as well as limited flexibility and range-of-motion.
Bone fusion doesn’t occur in everyone with AS. Still, as a preventative measure, you can have a positive influence on your potential fusion pattern by adopting healthy posture habits. By consciously maintaining a straight spine, even if bone fusion does occur, your spine will fuse in an upright position and you’ll still be able to move around and do your daily tasks. Plus, good posture is good for your general health and appearance, regardless of whether fusion eventually happens.
4 Tips for Improving Your Posture:
Here are four important steps you can take to help improve your posture and keep your joints and spine flexible:
Be Active. Next to seeing your doctor regularly and following your treatment plan, regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to relieve pain, improve your posture and maintain range-of-motion in your affected joints.
Although physical activity can be challenging when you’re coping with pain and posture changes, once your pain and inflammation are under control, engaging in daily low impact exercise is vital to your overall treatment plan. Plus, physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce unnecessary stress on painful joints.
The following low-impact exercises are often recommended for AS patients:
• Tai chi
• Swimming or water therapy
• Strength or weight training
Ask your doctor to recommend a physical therapist to help you design an effective exercise program that meets your needs.
See a Physical Therapist. Physical therapy can offer pain relief, while improving your physical strength and flexibility and promoting good posture. Stretching exercises can increase range-of-motion in your joints, which in turn, will reduce pain, while weight training can help to strengthen supporting muscles. Because bone fusion can also stiffen your rib cage, restricting lung function, your physical therapist may also recommend breathing exercises to increase your lung capacity.
Use Support Devices. Although not used to treat ankylosing spondylitis, there are special support devices available to help you maintain the progress you’ve made in physical therapy. They include:
• Lumbar support pillows
• Support mattresses
• Zero-gravity chairs
But don’t feel like you have to go out and buy a special new chair, mattress and pillows. Sleeping on a firm mattress with a folded towel in place of a regular pillow can help. Avoid using a standard pillow, which can sometimes cause pain due to over-extension in the neck and spine. If possible, try to sleep lying stretched out and flat.
Practice Good Posture Habits. Whether sitting, standing or walking, think “tall.” Consciously focus on keeping your head evenly aligned between your shoulders, with your neck and back upright and straight.
Lying prone is another good exercise that can help with your posture. Lie face down on the floor or on a firm bed. If it’s too difficult to lie flat, put a pillow under your chest or a towel under your forehead. You may also rest your head on your hands or turn it to the side. Don’t be discouraged if you can only maintain this prone position for a minute or two. Sometimes, taking a warm bath or shower before doing this posture exercise can help to relax your muscles. Gradually increase the time to 20 minutes or more.
Practicing good posture can help you avoid some of the complications of AS. Although the course of your condition may change as time passes, by sticking with your prescribed treatment plan, staying physically active, and practicing good posture, you can enjoy a healthy, happy and productive life.
What helps you improve your posture? Share your tips in the comment thread below.