The Soothing Power of Water-based Exercise on Ankylosing Spondylitis

Article: Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a chronic form of inflammatory arthritis that affects 2-3 million Americans. It is a degenerative autoimmune disease that causes extreme pain and stiffness in the spine, back and/or peripheral joints. While there is currently no cure for AS, there are plenty of ways to help manage the pain and help you to live an independent and happy life. One option is water-based exercise, with scientific research showing that it significantly improves AS symptoms. Meanwhile, stretching is an important component of any exercise and water provides a supportive environment for AS patients to stretch appropriately.

Try hydrotherapy

While being mindful of any side effects of long-term medication use, remember that you may well need to continue taking pain relief in addition to regularly exercising. This is particularly true when you are undertaking unfamiliar forms of exercise. For example, hydrotherapy – essentially, physiotherapy in a warm pool – will work your body harder than you might realize and you may ache somewhat afterwards as you get used to stretching your body in new ways. Research published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences has shown the effectiveness of hydrotherapy at easing joint pain. This is largely thanks to the way in which water supports the weight of your body, making water-based exercise gentle on the joints and therefore ideal for people living with AS.

Backstroke is particularly beneficial

Swimming is very good for people with AS. In the words of clinical professor of medicine and chief rheumatologist Brian Kaye, this is due to the ‘excellent back flexion and extension’ swimming promotes, while not damaging the spine. Depending on the areas in which you get the most pain, certain strokes will be particularly helpful at easing your discomfort. However, backstroke is particularly good for correcting rounded shoulders and improving posture – two aspects that those with AS in the upper back need to be especially aware of. It also encourages people to extend their reach and works the lattisimus dorsi hard – the muscles stretching across your upper back. Whichever stroke you opt for, however, it is very important that you learn the technique well – particularly if you swim breast stroke, as you need to make sure you do not put pressure on the neck, or round your shoulders too much.

Join an aqua class

Another way of exercising in the water is by participating in aqua classes. These include aqua-aerobics, aqua-zumba and aqua-jogging. These all make good options for people with AS who would like to take part in low-impact group exercise. Conventional zumba, aerobics and jogging are harder on the joints, making them less ‘AS-friendly’. Just as with hydrotherapy, however, these water-based classes work the body hard while not pounding the joints, giving you a good all-round physical workout while giving you much-needed endorphins that will boost your spirits.

Swimming can help keep your symptoms at bay

Living with a chronic condition like AS can be physically and mentally challenging, and there will inevitably be days when the thought of exercising feels like too much. However, hold onto the fact that movement can ease some of the stiffness and pain you feel in your joints. Swimming can make you feel weightless and help you stretch effectively, reducing your pain and boosting your morale overall.

By Jess Walter

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