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News Letter

Ankylosing Spondylitis: Practical Tips for Coping with the Disease Print E-mail

Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the spine, which can result in fused vertebrae, a rigid spine, and flattening of the lower back. The joints and ligaments normally permitting the back to move become inflamed. Of the 2.5 million people suffering from the ailment in this country, 75 percent are male (Arthritis: Modern Treatments for That Old Pain in the Joints, January 2003).

Early warning signs of ankylosing spondylitis are pain and stiffness in the lower back and eventually throughout the whole spine. Common treatments for spondylitis include medicines, hot and cold compresses, gentle massage, physical therapy, electrical stimulators for pain, hot baths and showers, moist heat and ultrasound.

While there is no cure, you may be able to use these practical tips for coping with ankylosing spondylitis:

  • Avoid poor posture. Bad posture can be harmful to the ultimate position of your spine.
  • Work with your employer. Most people with ankylosing spondylitis are able to continue working. Talk with your employer about your condition. Two-way communication can go a long way toward making your work-life as comfortable as possible. If your current job involves prolonged stooping or strain on your back, you may want to contact a vocational rehabilitation agency for guidance.
  • Select proper furniture. The ideal chair has a firm seat and an upright, firm back, preferably extending to the head. A chair with arms will also help to relieve pressure on the spine.
  • Watch how you sit. Try to move your spine regularly, straighten it out and stretch it by sitting tall and pulling your shoulders back.
  • Select your mattress and pillow with care. Your mattress should be firm, without sag, but not too hard. Try to use few pillows, preferably only one.
  • Lie flat on your back or your front for 20 minutes a day. Some of this time should be spent lying on your bed on your back with your legs dangling toward the floor.
  • Try heat or cold. A hot bath or shower in the morning or before bed may reduce pain and stiffness. If you have a particularly inflamed area, an ice pack wrapped in a damp towel may help.
  • Don't wear a corset or brace. They often make matters worse, as they hold the spine rigid.
  • When driving, always wear a seat belt with a shoulder harness and have the headrest in your car adjusted to support your neck. If a stiff neck or back makes backing into parking spaces difficult, try fitting your car with extra-wide mirrors.
  • If you have trouble bending, try adaptive aids such as a long-handled shoehorn and sock aids. Wear loafers or slip-on shoes which don't need to be tied.
  • Maintain a balanced diet and avoid becoming overweight, which puts added stress on the spine.
  • Avoid alcohol if you use anti-inflammatory medicines to help control your condition. Anti-inflammatory drugs and alcohol can both affect the stomach lining and should therefore not be taken together.
  • Don't smoke. Ankylosing spondylitis can reduce the capacity of the lungs. Smoking can make this even worse, making you more prone to lung infections and shortness of breath.
  • Consider complimentary therapies carefully. Many people have tried acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology, massage, relaxation techniques, and homeopathy. Look for solid evidence of effectiveness, and don't pursue complimentary therapies without first seeking medical advice from your physician.
  • Consider physical therapy. A physical therapist can teach you an exercise routine for daily use. A physical therapist can help you to be aware of your posture and provide many other practical ways you can adapt to your condition.
  • Get some exercise. The right types of exercise may help maintain range of motion in many joints of the spine and all over the body. A good exercise for maintaining range of motion is swimming. Walking is also good. Talk with your doctor about the best exercise regimen for you.
  • Avoid sudden impact. Activities that include jumping or falling should be avoided, as the back can become injured more easily.
  • Talk with others who can be supportive. Dealing with ankylosing spondylitis can leave you stressed, depressed or frustrated. Sometimes it helps to talk about these feelings with a close friend, a counselor, or someone who has ankylosing spondylitis too. Your physician may be able to recommend a counselor or support group.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs. During flare-ups of the disease you may need to take anti-inflammatory drugs. If you have severe disease, you may occasionally require injections of steroids directly into the most inflamed joints. The drugs sulfasalazine and methotrexate may help some people with ankylosing spondylitis. www.webmd.com.

    While you can't cure your ankylosing spondylitis, you can try to control it. Talk with your physician about these tips, as every patient's situation is unique.

    • Lie flat on your back or your front for 20 minutes a day. Some of this time should be spent lying on your bed on your back with your legs dangling toward the floor.
    • Try heat or cold. A hot bath or shower in the morning or before bed may reduce pain and stiffness. If you have a particularly inflamed area, an ice pack wrapped in a damp towel may help.
    • Don't wear a corset or brace. They often make matters worse, as they hold the spine rigid.
    • When driving, always wear a seat belt with a shoulder harness and have the headrest in your car adjusted to support your neck. If a stiff neck or back makes backing into parking spaces difficult, try fitting your car with extra-wide mirrors.
    • If you have trouble bending, try adaptive aids such as a long-handled shoehorn and sock aids. Wear loafers or slip-on shoes which don't need to be tied.
    • Maintain a balanced diet and avoid becoming overweight, which puts added stress on the spine.
    • Avoid alcohol if you use anti-inflammatory medicines to help control your condition. Anti-inflammatory drugs and alcohol can both affect the stomach lining and should therefore not be taken together.
    • Don't smoke. Ankylosing spondylitis can reduce the capacity of the lungs. Smoking can make this even worse, making you more prone to lung infections and shortness of breath.
    • Consider complimentary therapies carefully. Many people have tried acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology, massage, relaxation techniques, and homeopathy. Look for solid evidence of effectiveness, and don't pursue complimentary therapies without first seeking medical advice from your physician.
    • Consider physical therapy. A physical therapist can teach you an exercise routine for daily use. A physical therapist can help you to be aware of your posture and provide many other practical ways you can adapt to your condition.
    • Get some exercise. The right types of exercise may help maintain range of motion in many joints of the spine and all over the body. A good exercise for maintaining range of motion is swimming. Walking is also good. Talk with your doctor about the best exercise regimen for you.
    • Avoid sudden impact. Activities that include jumping or falling should be avoided, as the back can become injured more easily.
    • Talk with others who can be supportive. Dealing with ankylosing spondylitis can leave you stressed, depressed or frustrated. Sometimes it helps to talk about these feelings with a close friend, a counselor, or someone who has ankylosing spondylitis too. Your physician may be able to recommend a counselor or support group.
    • Anti-inflammatory drugs. During flare-ups of the disease you may need to take anti-inflammatory drugs. If you have severe disease, you may occasionally require injections of steroids directly into the most inflamed joints. The drugs sulfasalazine and methotrexate may help some people with ankylosing spondylitis
 

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