Managing Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a condition that can deeply impact the daily lives of those diagnosed with it. It’s a form of arthritis characterized by inflammation in the joints and ligaments of the spine, which can lead to significant discomfort and stiffness. Physiotherapy can help manage the symptoms and sustain mobility by employing patient-specific exercises. This blog post is tailored for physiotherapy patients seeking to understand AS, its symptoms, and the ways in which physiotherapy can provide relief and support.

What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory condition that primarily affects the spine and sometimes the peripheral joints. The inflammation leads to pain and often progressive stiffness of the spine. Over time, the chronic inflammation can cause the vertebrae in the spine to fuse together, resulting in decreased flexibility and postural changes.

The exact causes of AS are not fully understood, but there is a known genetic component associated with a gene called HLA-B27. Although having this gene does not mean you will certainly develop AS, it does increase your susceptibility.

Recognizing the Symptoms

The hallmark signs of AS are gradual pain and spinal stiffness. It’s often more noticeable in the morning or after periods of inactivity. Symptoms often improve with exercise. Symptoms may also include:

  • Pain and swelling in other parts of the body, such as the shoulders, hips, or ribs
  • Fatigue due to the body’s response to the inflammation
  • Reduced range of motion in the spine, affecting posture and daily activities

It is essential for those experiencing these symptoms to seek medical guidance as early diagnosis and management can significantly improve the quality of life.

How Can Physiotherapy Help?

Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in managing AS by providing tailored exercises that address the specific needs of the patient. The objectives of physiotherapeutic interventions include:

  • Alleviating Pain: Through various techniques including gentle stretching and specific strengthening exercises.
  • Improving Spinal Mobility: Exercises that promote spinal mobility can help maintain flexibility.
  • Strengthening Postural Muscles: Building strength in the muscles needed for proper posture can help combat the forward curve that AS may cause.
  • Enhancing Overall Functionality: By maintaining mobility and reducing pain, physiotherapy can improve the patient’s capacity to perform daily activities and exercise-related goals.

Exercise Is Key

While each exercise plan should be personalized by a physiotherapist to suit individual needs, some general exercises may include:

  • Stretching/Range of Motion Exercises: To improve or maintain the flexibility of the spine and affected joints.
  • Strengthening: Focusing on core and postural muscles, such as upper mid back muscles, to support strength around the spine.
  • Aerobic Activities: Such as walking, swimming, or cycling to enhance cardiovascular health without putting too much strain on the joints. 

Practicing these exercises regularly and correctly is vital in managing AS effectively. 


Ankylosing spondylitis can present significant challenges, but understanding the disease and engaging in proactive management can make a difference. A physiotherapy assessment and targeted physiotherapy exercises is valuable in those with all stages of AS. With the right tools and knowledge, you can take control of your symptoms and pursue an active, fulfilling life.