A Year of Physiotherapy
I went to physiotherapy from February 2022 to February 2023. Prior to starting physio, I was unable to be active. I could barely walk or stand for more than five minutes without being in excruciating pain and being so tired after that I’d have to rest all day afterwards. It was really hard to live like that. Upon my doctor’s recommendation, I started going to physio in hopes that it would relieve my pain and help me be more active. And that’s exactly what happened.
A reduction in pain
Physiotherapy didn’t get rid of my pain entirely, but it did reduce my pain significantly. With ankylosing spondylitis they say that the pain is better with movement and worse with inactivity and in my experience this is true. However, fatigue is also a major symptom of ankylosing spondylitis. This makes it really difficult to be active which would help the pain and this all just fuels a cycle of inactivity and pain and fatigue.
For me, it was always hard to be active because a lot of the activities would worsen my pain. I used to try and do yoga, and I couldn’t do it without being in immense pain afterwards because it was not tailored to someone with ankylosing spondylitis and fibromyalgia. So, when I started going to physio, I made sure that I worked with a therapist who understood how ankylosing spondylitis and fibromyalgia work and how I can find a way to move with these conditions.
Learning the exercises
I started doing some exercises and you can read about that in another article I wrote, but these exercises have helped me consistently stay active for over a year now. Unfortunately, my insurance coverage ended so I no longer go to a clinic, but I still do all those exercises at home. I bought some exercise equipment like an exercise ball, an indoor bicycle, weights, and resistance bands. At home, I do modified exercises that don’t worsen pain for me but help me stretch and strengthen my bones and muscles.
Before I started physiotherapy I could never crack my back. I know that may sound like a weird thing to care about or notice but I just used to feel this constant pressure in my back, that could only be relieved by cracking it. But no matter what I did no matter which way I twisted, turned or if I got someone to hold me and try and crack my back I just couldn’t crack my back. That pressure and stiffness, along with the pain, was a lot to deal with sometimes. But after a couple months of consistently going to physio, I was able to crack my back for the first time since I was a kid. Just being able to relieve the pressure in that moment was an amazing feeling, and I attribute that entirely to physiotherapy.
Physio helped me get some of my movement and strength back and now I can stand (mostly) comfortable for 5 to 10 minutes while using my cane. I could never do that before physio. I can also go on short walks now. Yes, my medications, treatments, and lifestyle changes do help with this as well, but for several years, even with all my treatments, I wasn’t able to move much. Physio help me get to that point.
Once I found ways to exercise without exacerbating my pain, it was difficult to know how much to exercise. This is a fine balance that many people with ankylosing spondylitis have to navigate because while activity helps ease pain, too much activity can worsen fatigue, and in turn also worsen pain. So, I would rather under shoot than over shoot to avoid overdoing it.
I try and exercise for 30 to 45 minutes a day at least three times a week. During a good week (low pain) I will exercise maybe five times a week. I do some modified strengthening exercises, but I also do a lot of stretching and that depends entirely on my symptoms that day. If I’m in more pain, I’ll do some stretching but if I’m feeling a little better, I’ll do some strengthening exercises and this helps me continuously stay mobile. This has reduced my pain greatly and I feel like this has helped my other treatments work more efficiently as well.
Starting physio was the best decision I ever made and it really helped me learn the importance of movement, activity, and exercise. It helped me realize that anyone can exercise, even if you have arthritis. It might look a little different and that’s okay, if anything exercise might be more important for us than other people.
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