The best defense against back pain from ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is controlling your disease with a daily treatment plan. It will usually include medications your doctor recommends. When the pain is worse than normal and you’re having a flare, your doctor may have you try other drugs.
But you can take steps on your own, in addition to meds, to ease pain and stiffness.
In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics, including some of the oldest -- and most cherished -- medical myths out there. For our October 2011 issue, we asked Dimitrios Pappas, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, about the long-term effects of one popular childhood activity: knuckle cracking.
Q: My 10-year-old son cracks his knuckles. Is it true that it causes arthritis?
Work with a physical therapist. Exercise is an important part of everyday treatment. When you strengthen the muscles that support the spine, you can boost your flexibility and lower pain.
It’s best to work with a qualified therapist. She can make sure you’re using proper form. When some exercises are done the wrong way, they can make you feel worse.
A trainer can keep you on the right track and motivated. In addition to strength training and stretching, your program might include exercising in water (hydrotherapy), posture training, and deep-breathing exercises.
Having a flare? Use heat or ice. A physical therapist may recommend either hot or cold therapy.
When applied to inflamed areas, cold packs can lower swelling.
Heat can be used to loosen up tight muscles and ease joint stiffness. Take a warm shower before a workout, for example, to help you move better.
Take frequent breaks. For some people, if you don’t move a lot it can make symptoms worse. If you have to sit for long periods of time at work, try to get up every hour or so to stretch or walk around. (Your doctor can write a note so that you can take regular breaks.)
Practice good posture. Hunching over may make back pain feel better for a short time. But it only strains your spine more. There is also a risk that your vertebrae -- small, linked bones that form your backbone -- could fuse in a bent-forward position.
Ask your spouse, coworker, or friend to remind you to keep your back straight. If you work at a computer, make sure your station is set up to promote good posture.