Exercise is Medicine!
This saying is not from me. I heard it during the presentation of a rheumatologist specialised in AxSpa. I thought this was a strong message delivered by a specialist. I welcomed this message with great interest as my personal experience has shown me that indeed exercise is medicine.
When I was diagnosed with AxSpA, I was working in the Charity sector. I had some awareness about how charities can support patients in their journey towards a diagnosis and beyond, finding the right treatment and level of care to live better with the condition. In particular, I knew the value of local support groups in helping people near where they live, by getting people with same diagnosis to meet, socialize and exchange about their lives.
I found a national organization that provided support
Therefore, I turned to the Charity supporting people with AxSpA in the UK, NASS. I was struggling at the time with my symptoms and I felt isolated as I did not know anyone else living with my condition. I found out that NASS had a network of local branches across the UK. These are exercise groups, run weekly by physiotherapists offering an adapted gym session, accessible to patients with AxSpa who register with the group. Usually, hospital facilities such as physiotherapy departments are used for these sessions.
The sessions included exercise and other therapies
Sessions include some cardio circuit followed with strengthening exercises and stretches. Each physiotherapist will have their preferred style of exercises taken from yoga or pilates or tai-chi, so a great variety of sessions are offered to us each week. Alongside the gym, we attend a hydrotherapy session, also run by a physiotherapist, with the same principle to do some cardio exercises, strengthening and stretching, in a warm pool at 35⁰C. A pure bliss for me and my friends living with AxSpA as the warm water alleviates the pain and stiffness almost instantly.
I feel happy and safe to exercise in water as I don’t carry my weight and I can relax straight away. Attending this NASS exercise group has allowed me to get fit again after my diagnosis and keep exercising in a supportive environment. After the session, we usually go for a drink and a chat. I have made friends and exchanged about my personal journey of living with AxSpA, as well as learned from others’ experiences.
Through this exercise group, I found out about a residential course running in Bath (UK), tailored made for patients with AxSpA, to learn about the condition and work on self-management techniques. I attended this course twice, and it was a real-life changing experience for me. I have learned a huge amount about my condition and how I could help myself. During two weeks, we did exercise every single day, both on the gym and the pool, on the same principle as the NASS exercise group.
Medications and exercise work together
There again a very strong message was delivered by the clinical team of experts in AxSpa: medications work hand in hand with exercise. I have certainly seen it for myself, taking medication for AxSpa and exercising every week with the NASS group for the past five years, has been a great combination to maintain a good level of fitness, improve my flexibility, and lower down the level of pain and fatigue I have experienced.
The exercise helps me to keep my joints mobilized, avoid the rigidity that may occur after flares, improves my quality of sleep, and also to build up my stamina. The medication I take lower down the inflammation in my body occurring as an immune response. This allows me to exercise more easily, therefore I get all the benefit of my treatment and the exercise sessions.
Can you tell when a flare is coming?