Pain Management Tips & Tricks, Part 2: Exercise, Hydration, and More
Editor's note: You can read Part 1 of Ali's "Pain Management" series here.
When you're in pain the last thing you'd even want to think about is exercise. When you have AS, exercise is vital for your body. Stretching, yoga, pilates, walking, and low-intensity workouts can help us reduce stiffness and pain, and in turn, give us more energy.
I aim to push myself to go on a daily walk, some days I can walk for an hour, other days it may be 10 minutes. The less I want to go for a walk, the more I feel I probably need a walk. It is hard to motivate yourself but gets easier with a bit of practice and perseverance.
Before the lockdown, I would go swimming 3 times a week. Some days I would swim lengths, some days I would just stretch in the water. Being in the water took all the pressure off my joints and while in the water I felt pain free! I wish I was a mermaid so I could be pain free forever. But while I'm stuck here on dry land I'll make do with walks and yoga etc.
When it comes to exercise, it is important to listen to your body.
On days when my pain and/or fatigue is intense, light stretching in bed is all I can do, but even this will help loosen my hips and cause me to be less stiff. For me, I really suffer from sitting down, this is the worst thing I can do. I will feel stuck after sitting for long periods of time, especially if I don’t have my hot water bottles. If I am in a situation where I need to sit for a long period of time, I will do little stretches every fifteen minutes and get up and walk around if possible.
I aim to drink 4 liters of water a day. I aim high so that I will drink as much as possible. I find the days where I drink 3-4 liters of water a day it helps with my fatigue and to not to feel so sluggish. It's a good idea to drink a lot. And hey! The endless trips to the toilet will get you up and moving, which is always good...
TENS machine (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)
I have read about many people getting long last relief from a TENS machine. I bought my TENS machine on Amazon for €30.
I use this on really bad pain days. I find it loosens my back out temporarily.
My favorite thing about my TENS machine is when I am using it, it distracts me from the pain for a while.
As I have said already, everybody is different, and you will have different pain management techniques than me. Maybe the TENS machine will have long-lasting results for you like it has for others. But for me, it has temporary results, and I am happy with this and I use it when needed.
Massages and physiotherapy
I love getting a massage. I would love to go for a spa day and get a massage. Unfortunately, my back would not like this.
I attend physio (called physical therapy in the states) often and she gently massages me. This feels very relaxing and it relieves a lot of my tension. There is a fine line for me when it comes to a massage, it needs to be very gentle and if not I can expect to suffer for many days with extreme and intense spasms going from my neck down my back, resulting in arm pain too. Best to get your doctor to refer you to a suitable physio with experience of AS.
This week I ordered a neck stretcher/traction device from Amazon. It cost me €25.
It is AMAZING!
My neck is often tight and stiff. And as I mentioned above, I suffer from a lot of spasms. As soon as I put this neck stretcher on I felt instant relief. Like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. That weight was my head. I wear it for about half an hour to an hour at a time.
After I take this off I notice that I have more movement in my neck, I am not as stiff and my spasms calm down, for a while. I am also walking tall and I find it easier to have a correct posture since wearing it.
I would recommend this to people who suffer from neck, shoulder, or upper back pain. But once again, talk to your doctor before trying.
Feel free to message me if you would like the link for the TENS machine or neck stretcher/traction device!
Does reading AxSpA patient stories help you in your journey?