I Tried Foam Rolling (With Great Results!)
I'm a big fan of exercising. It sounds super weird, but I've always liked feeling the serotonin rush, I like getting sweaty and feeling stronger, and I love feeling my blood circulate. It grounds me, makes me feel alive, and gives me a sense of autonomy of my body (which we sort of lose when we have a chronic illness).
I used to do belly dancing, weight lifting, HIIT, and Pop Pilates — and sometimes I can do some of that — but now that I have AS, I have to be a bit more careful during my workouts. I've been doing aqua cycling for the past two years, which is exactly what it sounds like: I cycle on a bike underwater. We do a bunch of moves on and off the bikes, all of which are super low-impact. It's a godsend for arthritis!
Exercise can make me stiff
Naturally, working out leaves me achy. If I overdo it, I might also feel extra stiff or fatigued. So when my aqua studio started offering foam rolling classes, I jumped on the chance. I had heard that foam rolling was great to roll out aches, pains, and stiff muscles, but I'd also heard foam rolling was painful in itself, so I was a little hesitant (don't I feel enough pain?). When you lay down on or roll on a roller, it hurts because it affects the fascia, which encases your muscles.
The foam rolling did hurt at first
I'll be honest: The class felt brutal during the actual foam rolling — but afterward, it was incredible, like a light switch had gone off in my body. In fact, studies actually found that foam rolling can improve muscle flexibility.
But it also helped so much!
We used the roller over our back (I did so lightly), shoulders, groin, and hips — and it made a real difference in how I felt afterward. We also used bands to stretch our legs and groin — and wow. My tightness, soreness, and general tin-can-ness was significantly reduced afterward.
The coolest thing? You can buy a foam roller and roll at home — as slow and as specific as you'd like. You don't need to take a class (although I do recommend learning how to do it first from a qualified instructor or doctor).
Do what works for you
And I also found out that foam rolling is generally okay for people with ankylosing spondylitis.1 But please do check with your doctor first, especially as some people choose NOT to use it on their backs for reasons to do with the spine. On the other hand, plenty of people in AS forums rave about the foam roller.
I loved it and it helped me feel great — but every single person with AS is going to experience movement, physical therapy, and tools like these differently. It's imperative you chat with your doc before rolling.
Other than back pain and fatigue, what is the most common symptom that AS patients experience?