Yoga for Ankylosing Spondylitis to alleviate symptoms of pain, back stiffness

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
Jun 21, 2023 12:40 PM IST

There is no cure for Ankylosing Spondylitis but Yoga can help alleviate the symptoms of pain and stiffness of the back that occurs in Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing Spondylitis is an arthritic condition which usually presents during second to fourth decade of life and it affects more men than women where it is characterised by the inflammation of sacroiliac joints, axial spine and peripheral joints. The sacroiliac joint is the joint between the lower spine and the pelvis and inflammation of this joint can cause pain and stiffness of the lower back while the chest expansion during the breathing is reduced.

Yoga for Ankylosing Spondylitis to alleviate symptoms of pain, back stiffness (Photo by todd kent on Unsplash)
Yoga for Ankylosing Spondylitis to alleviate symptoms of pain, back stiffness (Photo by todd kent on Unsplash)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Deepak Gautam, Consultant Joint Replacement and Director of Orthopedic Disciplines at Medicover Hospitals in Navi Mumbai, shared, “The condition may be hard to diagnose and can be mistaken for other causes of low back pain. Nevertheless, the diagnosis is usually made through clinical examination only. A diagnosis is usually made in a patient with chronic lower back pain (at least 3 months), if his/her x-rays show inflammation of the sacroiliac joints and the stiffness of his/her lower back gets better with movement and exercises rather than rest. There is no specific lab test to identify Ankylosing Spondylitis but the patients with this disease are often tested to be positive for the HLAB-27 gene.”

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He revealed, “The actual cause of Ankylosing Spondylitis is not known hence there is not any way to prevent it. However, the disease is rarely life-threatening, however, it is invariably disabling which may gradually worsen with age. The symptoms of joint pain and stiffness may interfere with the ability to perform the activities that one likes to do. There is no cure for this disease but a combination of medications and physical activities can alleviate the symptoms. The medications are aimed at reducing the pain, preserve the function of joint and prevent or delay the long term complications of disability. The group of medications specifically the Disease Modifying Drugs work to suppress the body’s hyperactive immune or inflammatory system. The newer biological group of medications works on the molecules that are responsible for the inflammation and destruction of the joints.”

Talking about how Yoga is beneficial for patients with Ankylosing Spondylitis, Dr Deepak Gautam said, “Though Ankylosing Spondylitis cannot be cured but it has been shown that regular physical activities can slow down the progression of the disease. The patient’s experience more pain if they are inactive. Movement and physical activities lessen the pain. Yoga is an effective way of easing pain due to Ankylosing Spondylitis. Not only Yoga will relieve pain and inflammation, but also alleviates anxiety and stress. It helps in great by increasing the flexibility of the body which otherwise gets stiff with time in Ankylosing Spondylitis. One can make Yoga as a part of daily routine. Yoga has positive effects on Ankylosing Spondylitis. The yoga postures help in maintaining the flexibility of spine and joints and prevent the permanent deformity. The deep breathing exercises increase the lung function.”

He highlighted 10 different activities of Yoga that help in Ankylosing Spondylitis -

1. Deep Breathing: Deep breathing have always been the key step in every Yoga. As mentioned above it helps in maintaining and increasing the lung capacity. It also helps preventing stiffness of rib cage and upper back as well.

2. Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation): The stretching of spine during this pose helps in the flexibility.

3. Balasana (Child Pose): This resting pose relaxes the muscles on the front of the body while passively stretches the muscles of the back

4. Bitilasana (Cow Pose): This helps to warm up the spine before beginning a more vigorous yoga practice

5. Marjarisana (Cat Pose): This pose stretches the back and strengthens it. Additionally, it also benefits the wrist and shoulder joints.

6. Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine Spinal Twist): This pose improves the spinal mobility because of its twisting effect. It also gently stretches the neck, chest and glutes.

7. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose): It strengthens the lower-abdominal muscles, hips, pelvis, back and arms muscles.

8. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose): This is a resting inversion pose which helps in building up the upper body strength and increase the flexibility.

9. Ashta Chandrasana (Crescent Lunge Pose): This standing posture strengthens the legs and opens up the chest.

10. Pelvic Tilt Pose: Moving the pelvis anteriorly in backbends to forward folding for posterior tilt increases the pelvic mobility and prevents lower back pain.

Dr Deepak Gautam concluded, “Even if the patient is not having pain but is diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, he/she may benefit from these Yoga activities as it will prevent the long term consequences of deformity that occurs in AS. However, despite all these, a small subset of patients with irreversible joint damage may need surgery. Joint replacement surgery may be required for the patients presenting with arthritis or fusion of hip and/or knees. Corrective spine surgery may be required for those presenting with round deformity of the spine.”

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