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Will Yoga Help My Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Yoga is a form of exercise that originates from India that focuses on bringing awareness through body postures, breathing techniques, and meditation to achieve harmony in the body, mind, and spirit. Yoga has been associated with a variety of health benefits, including reducing blood pressure, reducing heart rate, and increasing mood.1

How yoga may help

People living with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) have chronic pain and stiffness due to the increased inflammation in their joints, particularly in the spine and sacroiliac joints (between the base of the spine and the pelvis). In addition to medication, regular exercise is recommended for the management of symptoms and overall well-being.

The pain and stiffness that are characteristic of AS are worse in the morning after a night’s sleep or after periods of inactivity, and they improve with movement and activity or a warm shower.2 Although exercise and physical therapy have not been demonstrated to prevent the progression of AS, getting regular movement in the joints can help manage the symptoms of the disease and help people living with AS maintain their flexibility and mobility.3

Yoga is a popular complementary health approach

Yoga is used by many people to help maintain health and well-being, and back pain is the most popular reason why people use yoga as a complementary health practice.1 (Complementary approaches are those used in combination with traditional medicine, like medications.)

There have been few studies on yoga’s effects on people with AS, but studies of yoga for back pain have demonstrated that people engaging in yoga regularly for 6 months had significantly less disability, pain, and depression.1

There are a variety of different types of yoga, and it may take some experimentation to find what works best for you. Some forms of yoga involve heat or are more rigorous, while restorative or gentle yoga is generally more calming and focuses on supportive poses, breathing, and meditation.

Yoga poses can be modified or adapted to meet anyone’s physical limitations. It’s important to find a trained and experienced yoga practitioner to minimize the risk of injury. While yoga videos are available online and for home use, it’s best to begin with a knowledgeable practitioner who can help you adapt any difficult poses and make sure you are doing the poses safely.

Getting started in yoga

Yoga is considered safe for most people. Before beginning any new exercise program, talk to your doctor about all of your health conditions and if yoga is safe for you. Yoga is practiced in many studios, gyms, and community centers, and in addition to classes, many practitioners offer private sessions which can be tailored to the individual’s needs.

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: February 2019
  1. Yoga as a complementary health approach. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Available at https://nccih.nih.gov/news/multimedia/infographics/yoga/text. Accessed 2/15/19.
  2. Most common symptoms. Spondylitis Association of America. Available at https://www.spondylitis.org/Ankylosing-Spondylitis/Symptoms. Accessed 2/15/19.
  3. Ankylosing spondylitis. University of Washington Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. Available at http://www.orthop.washington.edu/patient-care/articles/arthritis/ankylosing-spondylitis.html. Accessed 2/12/19.