Ankylosing Spondylitis: Exercises

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Your Care Instructions

Here are some examples of typical rehabilitation exercises for your condition. Start each exercise slowly. Ease off the exercise if you start to have pain.

Your doctor or physiotherapist will tell you when you can start these exercises and which ones will work best for you.

How to do the exercises

Back stretches

Picture of back stretches for ankylosing spondylitis
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slide 1 of 6, Back stretches,

Note: Exercises for ankylosing spondylitis should be gentle and frequent. It is good to do these exercises twice each day. Do not do them first thing in the morning, when you may feel more stiff.

  1. Get down on your hands and knees on the floor.
  2. Relax your head and allow it to droop.
  3. Round your back up toward the ceiling until you feel a nice stretch in your upper, middle, and lower back.
  4. Hold this stretch for as long as it feels comfortable, or about 15 to 30 seconds.
  5. Return to the starting position with a flat back while you are on your hands and knees.
  6. Let your back sway by pressing your stomach toward the floor. Lift your buttocks toward the ceiling.
  7. Hold each position for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Chest expansion

Picture of chest expansion stretch for ankylosing spondylitis
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slide 2 of 6, Chest expansion,
  1. Sit comfortably with your feet shoulder-width apart. You can also do this exercise standing up.
  2. Look straight ahead, and do not allow your head to tilt back. As you take a deep breath, open your arms out to the sides and roll your arms back. Your palms will turn outward, and you will feel a stretch across your chest.
  3. Breathe normally as you hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
  4. Lower your arms to your sides and let your palms turn back toward your legs as you slowly let out your breath.
  5. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Upper back and shoulder stretch

Picture of upper back and shoulder stretch for ankylosing spondylitis
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slide 3 of 6, Upper back and shoulder stretch,
  1. Stand up straight, or sit in a firm chair.
  2. Looking straight ahead, breathe in as you raise both arms over your head and reach toward the ceiling. Do not allow your head to tilt back.
  3. Reach back with your arms to stretch your shoulders.
  4. Breathe normally as you hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
  5. Return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Neck stretches

Picture of neck stretches for ankylosing spondylitis
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slide 4 of 6, Neck stretches,
  1. Sit in a firm chair, or stand up straight.
  2. Keeping your chin level, turn your head to the right, and hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
  3. Turn your head to the left and hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat 2 to 4 times to each side.
  5. Next, you can do some head tilts. Keeping your chin pointing straight ahead, tip your right ear to your right shoulder, and hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
  6. Tilt your head to the left and hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
  7. Repeat 2 to 4 times to each side.

Press-up back extension

Picture of press-up stretch to ease back pain
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slide 5 of 6, Press-up back extension,
  1. Lie on your stomach, supporting your body with your forearms.
  2. Press your elbows down into the floor to raise your upper back. As you do this, relax your stomach muscles and allow your back to arch without using your back muscles. As your press up, do not let your hips or pelvis come off the floor.
  3. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then relax.
  4. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Alternate arm and leg (bird dog) exercise

Picture of the "bird dog" exercise for ankylosing spondylitis
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slide 6 of 6, Alternate arm and leg (bird dog) exercise,

Note: Do this exercise slowly. Try to keep your body straight at all times, and do not let one hip drop lower than the other.

  1. Start on the floor, on your hands and knees.
  2. Tighten your belly muscles.
  3. Raise one leg off the floor, and hold it straight out behind you. Be careful not to let your hip drop down, because that will twist your trunk.
  4. Hold for about 6 seconds, then lower your leg and switch to the other leg.
  5. Repeat 8 to 12 times on each leg.
  6. Over time, work up to holding for 10 to 30 seconds each time.
  7. If you feel stable and secure with your leg raised, try raising the opposite arm straight out in front of you at the same time.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Current as of: March 21, 2017