Stretching Exercises for Ankylosing Spondylitis
One of the keys to managing ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is maintaining good posture and flexibility. That’s why it’s essential to stretch regularly, says Janice McInnes, PT, MPH, clinical supervisor of rehabilitation services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Range-of-motion exercises can improve your ability to move and reduce stiffness, and certain stretches can help prevent long-term disability, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
What’s more: For some, the inflammation associated with ankylosing spondylitis can cause two or more bones of the spine to fuse over time, which can restrict the rib cage and lungs. “The fusion is still going to happen, but you want it to happen in optimal alignment for posture,” McInnes says. “Stretching is critical.” People with AS should work with a physical therapist to learn about correct posture, have their posture and range of motion checked, and learn specific stretches that will target any areas showing signs of compromise, she adds.
For starters, there are some stretches that McInnes recommends doing at home. During a stretching session, each move should be repeated 6 to 10 times. Give these seven stretches a shot:
1. Wall posture check. Stand with your back to the wall. Make sure your head touches the wall. Your chin should be horizontal and parallel to the floor, drawn back slightly and centered. Make sure your head is sitting squarely over your shoulders.
Practicing posture techniques like this one can help you avoid certain complications associated with AS, including stiffness and downward curvature of the spine, says the Spondylitis Association of America.
2. Chin tucks. This stretch can be done while you’re in bed, or it can be done on the floor. Lie on your back. Roll up a small towel and place it at the base of your skull. Move your chin straight back without moving your head forward.
3. Shoulder rolls. Roll your shoulders in a circular, backward motion. “Really exaggerate the roll,” McInnes advises. “Bring your shoulder blades from the top, to the middle, to the base.”
4. Arm raises. Raise your arms way up above your head. Your upper arms should be against your ears, with your hands to the ceiling. If this move is too difficult, try a modified approach. Turn and face the wall. Place your palms on the wall and do a wall slide, which consists of moving your hands up along the wall until they are above your head.
5. Shoulder stretches. In a standing position, try to clasp your hands behind your back. As you do this, be sure to keep your back straight. It may be helpful to perform this stretch in front of a mirror to check that you’re doing it correctly.
6. Modified lunge. This stretch can help maintain flexibility of the hip flexors. Stand with your palms against the wall. Place one foot behind you, similar to a standard lunge, and lean forward. Repeat with the opposite leg.
7. Calf stretch. Stand with your palms against the wall. Place one foot behind you, and press the heel of that foot down to the floor. Repeat with the opposite leg.
When to Stretch (and How Often)
Performing these stretches in the morning is a good way to start your day, McInnes says.
“Free up your range of motion as well as any tissues that have tightened and are causing stiffness,” she adds. “Stiffness is a sign that you are doing something that should be counteracted. It tells your body to move. You must move in a way that is productive for you.”
But stretching once a day isn’t enough to help improve ankylosing spondylitis. “Postural breaks are important. It’s a good idea to take breaks throughout your day to perform these stretches,” says McInnes.
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