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Ankylosing Spondylolysis: Finding Relief with Physiotherapy


ankylosing-spondylolysis

Posted by Dr. Scott Wilson | 01-Jul-2023

Living with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) can be a challenge. If you’re living with this form of chronic arthritis, you know first hand just how much it can impact your mobility, comfort, and overall quality of life. The good news is that physiotherapy can play a crucial role in helping to manage the symptoms of AS. In this article, we’ll explore the many benefits that physiotherapy can provide for helping those living with Ankylosing Spondylolysis regain alleviate pain, increase mobility, and enhance their overall well-being and outlook on life.

What is Ankylosing Spondylolysis?

Before we look at the role that physiotherapy or physical therapy can play in helping to decrease pain, improve mobility, and enhance your overall well-being and quality of life, let’s take a quick look at what Ankylosing Spondylolysis really is.

  • Overview: Ankylosing Spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory form of arthritis. It typically starts with inflammation in the sacroiliac joints, where the spine meets the pelvis, and gradually progresses to involve the entire spine, causing inflammation, pain and stiffness. However, AS also affects the hips and other joints including the knees, shoulders, and ankles. While not as common as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, AS does affect up to 1.5% of the population. It usually occurs in early adulthood and affects men more often than women. The impact of Ankylosing Spondylolysis can also be very significant. It can affect your ability to work, engage in social interactions and even to perform basic activities of daily living. The chronic pain and physical limitations associated with AS can also have a significant emotional and psychological toll.
  • Causes and Risk Factors: The exact cause of Ankylosing Spondylitis is unknown, but it’s believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. One of the strongest genetic associations is the presence of a specific gene called HLA-B27. However, since not all individuals with HLA-B27 develop AS, other genetic and environmental factors seem to play a role. These factors include immune system dysregulation, bacterial infections, inflammatory bowel disease and smoking.
  • Common Symptoms and Key Challenges: Common symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis include chronic pain and stiffness, especially in the lower back and buttocks, that worsens after periods of rest or inactivity. As the condition progresses, your spine may become less flexible and even rigid. Other physical symptoms include inflammation and pain in peripheral joints, such as your hips, shoulders, and knees. This pain & stiffness reduces your mobility, limits your basic daily functioning and impacts your social participation. It can also disrupt your sleep pattern, leading to increased fatigue and decreased overall energy levels. So, it’s not surprising how AS can also negatively impact your emotional and psychological well-being.
  • Possible Complications: Aside from ongoing pain and stiffness in your spine and joints, Ankylosing Spondylolysis may also lead to inflammation in other organs like your eyes. It can also affect your lungs, kidneys, and is associated with heart disease, Ulcerative Colitis and Osteoporosis.

Physiotherapy Benefits for Ankylosing Spondylolysis

While there is no cure for Ankylosing Spondylitis, physiotherapy can provide a number of key benefits when it comes to managing symptoms. These include helping with pain management, improving flexibility and range of motion, enhancing posture and spinal alignment, and addressing possible complications. Of course, improvements in each of these areas provide the additional benefit of positively impacting your emotional and psychological well-being.

  • Pain Management: Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in managing the pain associated with Ankylosing Spondylitis. Heat therapy and cold therapy are key treatments used by Physiotherapists. Heat therapy involves using a warm compress or ultrasound to help your relax muscles, increase your blood flow, and reduces stiffness. Cold therapy involves using ice packs or cryotherapy to reduce inflammation and numbs affected areas to provides temporary pain relief. Manual therapy or hands-on therapy targets specific trigger points or areas of pain. This includes joint mobilization or soft tissue massage and helps to reduce muscle tension, improve circulation, and alleviate pain. Your Physiotherapist may also use Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) to help with your pain management. TENS involves applying a low-voltage electrical current to affected area. It stimulates your nerves and provides a soothing sensation that helps reduce your perception of pain.
  • Flexibility and Range of Motion: Physiotherapists use a variety of techniques to address stiffness in your joints, improve your flexibility and increase your range of motion. This might include targeted stretching exercises as well as joint mobilization techniques such as gentle manual manipulation or passive movements. Hydrotherapy, which involves exercises performed in a warm-water pool, is another effective technique since the buoyancy of the water can reduce the pressure on your joints while also providing necessary resistance for strengthening your muscles. This can be particularly helpful for older adults or those with more severe conditions.
  • Posture and Spinal Alignment: Ankylosing Spondylitis can lead a forward stooping posture and spinal deformities, which affects your overall spinal alignment. To address this, your Physiotherapist will focus on specific exercises and stretches to target the muscles that support your spine to help strengthen and stabilize your core. They’ll also provide guidance on maintaining correct posture during daily activities, including for when you’re sitting, standing, or lifting objects. Your Physiotherapist may recommend postural braces to provide external support for maintaining proper spinal alignment. All of this helps to reduce strain on the spine and surrounding structures and also improves your overall biomechanics. This helps to promote optimal functioning, reduces pain, and prevents further deformities from occurring.
  • Possible Complications: Physiotherapy can also help to address possible complications associated with Ankylosing Spondylitis. Improving your overall well-being indirectly helps to reduce inflammation mitigate impacts to other organs such as your eyes, heart, lungs, and kidneys. Reduced breathing and lung functioning is another possible complication that can be addressed through specific physiotherapy related exercises and respiratory techniques.

Working with a Physiotherapist

As you can see, your Physiotherapist can certainly play a vital role in helping you to manage Ankylosing Spondylitis. As highly trained health care professionals, Physiotherapists assess, diagnose, and create tailored treatment plans based on each patient’s unique needs and condition. They also provide guidance, support, expertise throughout the treatment process to ensure an optimal outcome.

Your Initial Assessment

An initial assessment is critical first step for understanding the particulars of your condition, including your functional abilities, and for developing an effective treatment plan. It helps create a baseline for treatment and allows for the development of realistic and achievable goals. Of course, because AS is a progressive condition, effectively management requires ongoing monitoring, regular follow-up appointments with reassessments, and periodic plan adjustments to ensure that your treatment remains effective and adapts to your changing needs.

Your Individualized Exercise Plan

Your individual exercise program should be designed based on your physical capabilities and limitations, including your spinal and joint mobility, muscle strength, and cardiovascular fitness level. It should also address complications or related symptoms and pain management considerations. Back pain including lower back pain caused by inflammation in the vertebrae joints can be a significant consideration. Stretching exercises targeting the back, hips, and chest can help alleviate stiffness, while strengthening exercises for your core and postural muscles provide stability to your spine. Depending on your condition, your Physical Therapist or Physiotherapist may also include elements for improving your cardiovascular health, and may include low-impact options like Yoga or Pilates. Regular monitoring and reassessment are essential for modifying and revising the program as needed. And, of course, sticking to your treatment plan is key for the successful long-term management of this type of arthritis.

Breathing and Relaxation Techniques

Incorporating breathing and relaxation techniques into your treatment plan can enhance the benefits of exercise. Diaphragmatic breathing exercises, mindfulness practices, and the inclusion of Yoga or Pilates can help you to reduce stress, improve your body awareness, increase your relaxation and psychological well-being.

Lifestyle Modifications

In addition to your physical therapy, your Physiotherapist may also provide guidance and advice on other lifestyle changes for helping to manage your Ankylosing Spondylitis. Modifying your home and work environments to support comfort and joint health can have a significant impact on your ability to function and feel productive. Your Physiotherapist can provide recommendations for ergonomic adjustments, such as proper workstation setup, adaptive equipment, and postural cues, to promote optimal functioning and minimize joint strain. They might also recommend assistive devices and teach adaptive strategies to help overcome challenges with daily activities. Finally, your Physiotherapist may also provide guidance to help you with maintaining a healthy weight. This is essential for managing your symptoms and may include recommendations that support overall health and inflammation reduction.

Conclusion

Physiotherapy is an important and effective part of any comprehensive program for managing Ankylosing Spondylitis. Working with a skilled Physiotherapist and embracing tailored exercise program with external supports and lifestyle modifications, as needed, you’ll be able to more effectively manage your pain and other symptoms, increase your strength, flexibility and range of motion, and unlock your full potential for mobility and an improved quality of life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with Ankylosing Spondylitis, contact us today and let us show you why, at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here.

Frequently Asked Questions Related to Ankylosing Spondylolysis

Q1. What is Ankylosing Spondylolysis and how does it affect the body?

Ankylosing Spondylolysis is a form of arthritis that mainly impacts the spine, resulting in back, neck, and hip discomfort. It can cause vertebrae to fuse over time, limiting mobility. Physiotherapy can alleviate symptoms and enhance flexibility. Of course, a through physical exam is an important first step for determining the best course of treatment for your particular condition.

Q2. Is physiotherapy an effective treatment for Ankylosing Spondylolysis?

Physiotherapy can effectively treat Ankylosing Spondylolysis by enhancing flexibility, strength, and posture through exercises, massage therapy, heat/cold therapy and other treatments or interventions. A Physiotherapist can create a customized treatment plan based on the specifics of your condition and the symptoms you’re experiencing.

Q3. What exercises or stretches can help alleviate Ankylosing Spondylolysis symptoms?

There are a number of exercises or stretches that are useful in managing symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylolysis. Aerobic exercises such as swimming, cycling, or walking can help overall fitness levels and reduce stiffness. Strengthening back muscles with exercises like prone press-ups or plank pose may also alleviate symptoms. And knee-to-chest, hamstring and other stretches help to increase flexibility.


Dr. Scott Wilson

Dr. Scott Wilson is the Founder & Chairman of Physiomed; one of Canada’s largest franchised networks of inter-disciplinary healthcare clinics. A graduate of Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Dr. Wilson founded Physiomed in 1994 and has since grown Physiomed to over 30 clinics in Southern Ontario and British Columbia. With hundreds of practitioners from over a dozen disciplines, Dr. Wilson and Physiomed have helped over 100,000 Canadians with physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, orthotic therapy, compression therapy and clinical conditioning as part of a program of rehabilitation and health optimization. In addition to helping patients improve their physical and mental well-being, Dr. Wilson has also mentored hundreds of practitioners to provide better care while enjoying more fulfilling careers. He is also a keynote speaker on many health related topics including how physiotherapy, chiropractic and health & wellness treatment can help with stress, weight loss, and unlocking the true potential within to achieve lasting physical well-being.

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