Reviewed by Dr Jeffrey Lederman, DO
Ankylosing Spondylitis is a rare inflammatory condition that causes stiffness and pain in the spine and sacroiliac joints in the pelvis. Often characterized by a “bent forward” posture, Ankylosing Spondylitis usually occurs in males between the ages of 20 and 40.
Symptoms include worsening lower back pain in the absence of trauma, stiffness and a decreased ability to bend forward. Often, the pain initially comes and goes and then it worsens as the disease progresses. In later stages of the condition, the individual may notice very limited movement in the lower spine. Ankylosing Spondylitis can ultimately cause the spinal bones to fuse together, which can create a hunched posture and joint damage. The disease also can cause inflammation in other parts of the body, such as the eyes.
Because a top symptom of this condition is stiffness, it is important for an individual to stay active to maintain flexibility. Lack of movement, due to pain, stiffness or both, often causes the symptoms to worsen. An individual with Ankylosing Spondylitis should avoid high-impact activities, which may increase pain and inflammation.
Yoga provides a means for gentle movement that not only opens up stiff muscles and stalls further tissue degeneration but that helps create an overall condition of ease throughout the body. That sense of ease can lead to decreased pain and increased relaxation.
Yoga helps increase flexibility and range of motion in the spine, which can ease stiffness and pain in the back and improve physical strength and posture. Yoga is especially beneficial if the individual starts the practice during the early stages of the disease.
Yoga teaches the individual to pay attention to posture and alignment, not only when doing poses but throughout the day. This focus on being tall and straight may help prevent the spine from moving into a stiff, hunched position.
Another benefit of yoga for those with Ankylosing Spondylitis is that the practice can improve sleep quality. A regular yoga practice can help an individual sleep more soundly because the individual feels more grounded and has less pain. Those with Ankylosing Spondylitis often have trouble sleeping due to the discomfort of the condition.
Also, yoga’s meditative style can help ease emotional tension and stress, which often accompany the physical pain and reduced mobility of Ankylosing Spondylitis.
Melissa Gutierrez a yoga instructor and co-founder of SmartiesBodies adds, “An individual suffering from A.S. could benefit from the meditative aspect of yoga that helps one become more aware of the connection between mind and body. Instead of focusing on specific postures, one could focus on creating a movement practice based on fluid motion both internal (i.e. movement of the breath in the lungs and sensing other organ participation) and external (i.e. how do the bones feel and move?). Using this keen awareness is critical for maintaining healthy spinal function by distinguishing pelvic, sacral and lumbar participation. Doing so will help keep the A.S. sufferer safe in any asana and, more importantly, any challenge in daily life that may be compounded by the illness.”
Select poses from the Yoga Journal that may help alleviate symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis include: (Check with a medical profession before starting a program.)
- Salabhasana (Locust Pose), which strengthens the muscles of the lower back and reduces lower back pain tendencies
- Tadasana (Mountain Pose), which helps improve posture
- Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), which helps open the shoulders and upper chest
- Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog), which stretches the back, arms and shoulders
Yoga’s gentle poses can lead to increased range of motion, better posture, less pain and a healthier overall well-being for those with Ankylosing Spondylitis.
Written by Jessica Braun. She is a writer and an editor at WholesomeONE and can be reached at jessica.braun[at]wholesomeone[dot]com