Coping with Axial Spondyloarthritis Pain

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2020 | Last updated: July 2020

Living with an AxSpA spectrum condition involves living with a variety of symptoms, including pain. Pain can be a symptom that comes and goes at various times, or it can be chronic and constant. Inflammatory back pain is a main feature of AxSpA spectrum conditions, along with pain and inflammation in the eyes, intestines, pelvis, neck, and larger joints like knees.1 Neuropathic pain, or pain when the nervous system is affected or damaged, can also occur.1

While pain may be a symptom of AxSpA spectrum conditions, living with chronic pain can have significant effects. You don’t have to deal with your pain alone. While you may not be able to ever fully get rid of the associated pain, there are things you can do to alleviate it or treat it.

Living with chronic pain

Chronic pain can cause a chronic stress reaction, increasing blood pressure and heart rate.2 This can, in turn, impair the immune system because of the long-term stress. Other effects of long-term chronic pain can include muscle tension, limited physical mobility, lack of energy, depression, anger, and anxiety.2

Talk with your doctor

If you’re experiencing pain, talk with your doctor. Let them know all of the symptoms you are experiencing; if they aren’t aware of your pain or other symptoms, they can’t help you. Pain is not something you have to “get used to” or tolerate. Your doctor can work with you to find something that helps reduce or relieve your pain, like medication or physical therapy. They may also be able to review complementary therapies or treatments with you.

If you find that nothing is alleviating your pain, talk with your doctor about seeing a pain specialist.

Find a support group

A support group can do more than just reduce social isolation. A support group for AxSpA spectrum conditions or a support group for chronic pain can help give you support as well as education about pain management and living and coping with pain.3 They can also provide resources to explore to help you cope with pain. You can look for a chronic pain support group here or ask your doctor whether there are any support groups in the area. Sometimes they are run through a physician’s office or hospital.

Talk to someone

Chronic pain can contribute to anxiety, depression, and social isolation. Talking with someone can help with these feelings, provide support, and assist you in developing coping skills to better live with pain and related physical and emotional symptoms. A therapist can assist you with learning relaxation techniques, meditation, and breathing exercises to help with stress relief and pain control.4

Stay as active as possible

Living with an AxSpA spectrum condition, it’s important to stay as active as possible. This helps keep your joints mobile and flexible, and helps you maintain your range of motion and stave off stiffness.5 This can help reduce pain associated with muscle and joint stiffness. Exercise can also boost mood, and endorphins released during exercise help reduce the feeling of pain.

Lifestyle changes

Certain lifestyle changes can help reduce pain and promote better coping with pain. If you smoke cigarettes, consider talking with your doctor about quitting. Cigarettes interfere with bodily healing, and aggravates AxSpA spectrum conditions, speeding up the rate of spinal fusion.2,5 Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but your doctor can work with you on a plan to quit, as well as provide you with support and resources. If you drink alcohol, consider reducing the amount or stopping altogether. Pain often interferes with sleep, and alcohol can further disrupt sleep – which is necessary for bodily healing.2

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