Keegan's Experience with Chiropractic Care
I wanted to write this article to detail the experience Keegan, my husband with AS, had with chiropractors growing up. I know many with ankylosing spondylitis swear by chiropractic adjustments. It's great to read stories from others with AS who found relief with regular adjustments. However, this wasn't Keegan's experience. And if anything, it could have made his AS worse.
Growing up, Keegan went regularly to get adjusted
When we dated, I clearly remember Keegan getting chiropractic adjustments. We were 17 at the time. He'd go regularly as well as others in his family and I assumed he found relief from it. At the time, he said he had back and hip pain from being tall. I never thought to question the fact that he continued regular treatments despite his pain and immobility getting worse.
I asked Keegan to recall his experience with the chiropractor. He remembers going regularly, as much as every 1-2 weeks if he really hurt. The adjustments, where a chiropractor would manipulate his body and pop his joints. Keegan would feel okay during the adjustment. However, 20 minutes after leaving he had pain. Sometimes tons of pain. This pain would extend into the rest of his day. He didn't think to question his experience.
One red flag to all of this was that the chiropractor never took X-rays. Most chiropractors today will investigate with X-rays to see how to better adjust their patients. It would have been possible to catch Keegan's bone fusion earlier if the chiropractor had done X-rays.
A chiropractor for ankylosing spondylitis: not the best choice
Around 19, Keegan stopped going to the chiropractor. He knew it wasn't helping. Symptoms were worsening, and even with a vegan diet and regular exercise something just wasn't right. Stopping the adjustments didn't make things better, but it didn't make things worse, either.
Keegan nowadays hates to think about the pain he went through for years during his adjustments. (I'm pretty sure he'll never step into a chiropractor's office for the rest of his life.) Once he was diagnosed 7 years later, his doctor advised not to seek chiropractic care. For those with AS who have fusion of any joints, the manipulations can cause injuries to the spine.
Even the Spondylitis Association of America (SAA) doesn't recommend chiropractic adjustments as the first option for treatment. They asked a rheumatologist who also has AS named Dr. Muhammah Asim Khan. He says, "Anyone with limited spinal mobility due to [ankylosing spondylitis] should avoid manipulation of their back or neck by chiropractors and masseurs because it can be dangerous."1 Dr. Khan then says that "chiropractic treatments have sometimes inadvertently led to spinal fractures and neurological complications, especially in individuals with fusion (extra bone growth) due to spondylitis."1
The alternatives: yoga or tai chi, physical therapy, and massages
Time after time, Keegan's rheumatologists have recommended massages over chiropractic care. Doctors have even prescribed massages. (Although our insurance company won't help with paying for them.) Why? Because massage will help with both physical and mental stressors. They reduce stiffness, inflammation for some, and pain.
Keegan found huge relief with physical therapy, but it took a while. Once he had a diagnosis, physical therapists could target the pain and immobility. Within a month of going 3 days a week, Keegan could walk without a cane. After this, his rheumatologist recommended a low impact physical activity like yoga or tai chi. He also said that yoga classes should be limited to slow yoga, yin or restorative yoga, and gentle yoga. Tai chi was also an option as it aids in keeping the body active while minimizing the stress on joints.
What's your experience been like with these forms of complementary treatments like chiropractic adjustments, yoga, physical therapy, and tai chi? What's helped you the most?
Other than back pain and fatigue, what is the most common symptom that AS patients experience?