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Living With Ankylosing Spondylitis

Living with a chronic condition like ankylosing spondylitis (AS) impacts many areas of a person’s life. While each person with AS has their own unique experience, and the severity and progression of AS varies widely from person to person, AS can affect a person’s life dramatically.

There are many aspects of AS that are uncontrollable, but by taking an active role in your health, you can help manage the disease and feel some control over your life. Living well with AS involves many things, including:

  • Taking medication as prescribed, and talking to your doctor about any possible side effects
  • Eating healthy foods to give your body the nutrition it needs
  • Staying active through regular stretching, exercise, and physical therapy
  • Making adaptations as needed to your home or work environment to support your body
  • Stopping smoking to improve your AS and your overall health
  • Getting a good night’s sleep to give your body proper rest and recovery time
  • Recognizing your limitations and honoring them
  • Managing stress and caring for your mental health
  • Asking for help when you need it

Medications for Ankylosing Spondylitis

Although there currently isn’t a cure for AS, medications can help reduce the inflammation and symptoms, as well as delay or prevent structural damage and possible complications of the disease. There are several treatments available for AS, and your doctor will determine what’s best for your situation. Tell your doctor about any side effects you experience as well as giving an honest assessment of how your medications are working for you.

Diet & exercise

A healthy diet and regular exercise are good recommendations for anyone, but the importance of diet and exercise is elevated for people with chronic conditions like AS. While there’s no one single diet that has been proven to be the best (or to cure) AS, a healthy diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and limiting amounts of fats, alcohol, and sweets.1 Some people with AS may find additional dietary changes helpful for their body.

Exercise and physical therapy are recommended for all people with AS to help keep joints mobile and reduce the symptoms of pain and stiffness. There are many different types of exercise people with AS can do, although experts suggest avoiding high-impact activities. Good exercises include walking, cycling, yoga, swimming, and Pilates.2

Self-care and emotional health

Taking care of your mental and emotional health is just as important as caring for your physical health. While a healthy diet and exercise support good mental health, you may also need to take time to recharge by engaging in stress management techniques. There are a variety of ways to help manage stress levels, from complementary therapies like acupuncture to breathing techniques that you can do anywhere.

It’s also important to seek and ask for support when you need it, whether that’s from family, friends, a therapist, or others with AS. Dealing with the daily pain and restrictions of life with AS is challenging, and while it may be difficult to ask for help, being specific on what you need (as well as what is not helpful to you), is the first step in making sure your needs are met.

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: February 2019
  1. Diet’s effect on spondylitis symptoms. Spondylitis Association of America. Available at https://www.spondylitis.org/Diet-Nutrition. Accessed 2/20/19.
  2. Millner JR, Barron JS, Beinke KM, et al. Exercise for ankylosing spondylitis: An evidence-based consensus statement. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2016 Feb;45(4):411-27. doi: 10.1016/j.semarthrit.2015.08.003. Epub 2015 Aug 18.