Ankylosing Spondylitis (cont.)
If you have been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, there are steps that you can take at home to help reduce pain and stiffness and allow you to continue daily activities. These steps include:
- Educating yourself. Learn all you can about your condition and know what complications to watch for. This will help you control your symptoms and stay more active.
- Taking pain relievers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain. If NSAIDs do not relieve your pain, try acetaminophen. Heat, such as warm showers or baths or sleeping under a warm electric blanket, may also reduce pain and stiffness.
- Exercising regularly. This reduces pain and stiffness and helps maintain fitness and mobility of the spine, chest, and joints. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to get you started on an exercise program.
- Deep breathing exercises can improve or maintain lung capacity.
- Swimming as part of your exercise program helps to maintain chest expansion and movement of the spine without jarring the spine. Breaststroke is especially good for chest expansion.
- You should avoid contact sports, because joint fusion may make your spine more likely to fracture as the disease progresses. Your doctor may approve of other activities such as golf and tennis. Check with your doctor before you add any new activity.
- Maintaining proper posture and chest expansion. Good posture is important because it can help prevent abnormal bending of the spine. Maintaining chest expansion may help prevent problems such as lung infection (pneumonia). It's a good idea to lie on your stomach a few times each day to keep your spine and hips extended. For sleeping, choose a firm mattress and a small pillow that supports your neck. Try to lie flat on your back to sleep. If it's comfortable for you, you can also sleep part of the night on your stomach.
- Using assistive devices such as canes or walkers. Your local chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, your physical therapist, or a medical supply company may be able to help you find assistive devices in your area.
- Taking steps to protect yourself in the car, such as always using a seat belt. Joints that are inflamed or damaged can easily be injured in an accident. If your neck is becoming stiff, your doctor may advise you to wear a soft neck brace when you ride in the car, to prevent injury in case of an accident.
- Avoiding smoking, to prevent serious breathing problems and lung scarring. Lung damage from smoking, combined with decreased chest expansion and the lung infections that sometimes go with ankylosing spondylitis, can seriously limit your ability to breathe freely.
- Seeing your doctor (often a rheumatologist) at least once each year, to check on your condition and watch for any complications. Catching complications early and treating them can prevent further problems.
- Having regular eye exams by an ophthalmologist, to check for inflammation of the colored part of the eye (iritis).
- Talking with your doctor about your job. People who have ankylosing spondylitis feel better if they stay active and exercise regularly. So a job that is physically demanding—such as a job that requires lots of heavy lifting—could increase your symptoms.
- Joining a support group. For more information, call the Spondylitis Association of America toll-free at 1-800-777-8189, or visit the association's website at www.spondylitis.org.