Weekly Exercise Routine for Ankylosing Spondylitis

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of arthritis that can cause pain and inflammation in the spine and pelvis area. This inflammation can cause spinal bones to grow together, fusing sections of the spine.

The result is back pain and joint stiffness that limits activity and interferes with your quality of life. AS can develop gradually and worsen with age, but relief is available.

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Exercise might be the furthest thing from your mind when you’re living with chronic pain and inflammation.

However, regular physical activity can increase flexibility, improve range of motion, and reduce the pain and stiffness associated with AS.

Symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis

The most common symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis are back pain that usually occurs in the morning or late at night. At its onset, you may experience pain in your glutes and lower back.

  • low-grade fever
  • bowel inflammation
  • early morning stiffness
  • poor posture or stooped shoulders
  • loss of appetite
  • iritis or uveitis (inflammation of the eyes)
  • fatigue

There’s currently no cure for AS, but a weekly fitness routine may help improve how you feel. Here are four simple activities to consider incorporating into your routine.

1. Yoga

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To relieve joint stiffness that AS causes, try engaging in activities designed to help increase joint flexibility and reduce stiffness. These include low- impact workouts like yoga and tai chi, which don’t put too much strain on your spine or back.

Slowly moving your body into certain positions can help loosen your muscles and joints, while improving your balance and posture. Yoga also encourages breath control and meditation, which can help reduce stress and tension.

Try to incorporate a variety of yoga poses into your weekly exercise routine, such as the Cat-Cow pose.

To do this pose, get on your hands and knees on the floor. With your face down and your head relaxed, stretch your back upward toward the ceiling. Hold this position for about 15 to 30 seconds. Relax and return to the starting position.

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Next, push your stomach downward toward the floor and your buttocks upward toward the ceiling. Hold this position for another 15 to 30 seconds.

Repeat this pose (and other yoga poses) several times a day to help improve joint flexibility.

2. Morning stretching

Try to also include morning stretches as part of your exercise, especially if you experience frequent morning stiffness and it isn’t easy to get your day started.

Stretching may be more comfortable after showering because the water’s warmth can help relax tight muscles and joints.

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Once you’re out of the shower, stand with your feet apart and place your hands on your hips. Turn your waist to look at the wall behind you while keeping your feet facing toward the front.

Hold this position for 5 seconds and then repeat on the other side. Complete this stretch five times on each side of your body.

Here is another good stretch to loosen up the spine and hips called the supine lumbar rotation.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Stretch your arms out to the sides and keep your shoulders on the mat at all times.

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Keeping your knees together, drop them down to one side and pause for a second.

Return to the starting position, then take your knees across to the opposite side. Only drop your knees as far as you comfortably can.

Repeat 10 times to each side.

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The important thing is to do a variety of stretches for about 5 to 10 minutes each day.

3. Cardiovascular exercise

Cardiovascular workouts get your heart pumping and are an excellent choice for AS. But it’s important to avoid high-intensity cardio because it can worsen back pain.

Low impact workouts include:

  • light aerobics
  • swimming
  • walking
  • biking

Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise most days of the week. If you can’t squeeze in one 30-minute session a day, break up your activity into 10-minute blocks.

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For example, take a brisk 10-minute walk three times a day — perhaps 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes on your lunch break, and 10 minutes in the evening after dinner.

4. Strength training

Strength training strengthens your muscles and supports your joints to help reduce the pain associated with AS.

However, this doesn’t mean going to the gym and lifting heavy pounds of weights. You can strength train using your own body or with light free weights. Add strength training two to three days a week.

Pilates is an excellent low impact workout for strength training. It incorporates stretching and endurance. It uses your abdomen, lower back, thighs, arms, and legs to strengthen your muscles and tone your body.

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Check with a local gym to inquire about Pilates classes, or you can stream workouts or download an app that offers Pilates workouts.

If you prefer using free weights, start with 3- or 5-pound dumbbells. Gradually increase the weight as you’re able.

Plank exercises are another option for AS. This involves getting into a pushup position with your elbows at a 90-degree angle and then holding this position for as long as you comfortably can.

This movement uses your body weight and helps strengthen your core, buttocks, and hip muscles.

The bottom line

AS is a chronic condition, and there’s currently no cure. But the right type of activity can help improve your quality of life and manage symptoms.

Exercise can help increase joint flexibility and reduce stiffness, so talk with your doctor to discuss safe workouts for you.

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