My Experience With an Ankylosing Spondylitis Self-Management Course

Back in the freedom of our pre-Covid world I was lucky enough to attend a specialist self-management course for ankylosing spondylitis at a community hospital here in Melbourne.

The course was run by two physiotherapists and subsidized by the public health system to make it as affordable as possible. One of the physio’s had previously worked in the UK with a large number of AS patients and her expertise was a valuable addition to the program.

Once a week for 6 weeks I drove an hour each way to attend the sessions. Only a few people attended this particular intake. The weather was turning cold and people were reluctant to leave home at night, so there were a lot of cancellations. The advantage to those of us who did attend was the additional 1:1 attention we received.

Over the duration of the course we experienced a variety of learnings around different ways to manage AS

We practiced stretches specifically designed to relieve pain and learned pilates exercises to strengthen key areas. There was time using gym equipment and free weights under the guidance of the instructors along with recommendations for building strength, flexibility, and physical fitness. There were handouts and diagrams to take away so we could continue the exercises at home.

A couple of sessions featured guest presenters who came to speak with us about AS, including a representative from Arthritis Australia and a local rheumatologist. They emphasized the importance of staying connected, continually being monitored by our specialist, asking for help with pain relief when needed and staying physically active.

My favorite part of the course were the sessions in the hydrotherapy pool

Easing into the warm water was heaven for our sore and aching bodies and we learned a range of movements once again designed to provide pain relief and build strength.

It made such a difference having instructors who understood problem areas to target and what precautions were important to avoid injury.

Meeting other people in my city who shared my diagnosis was another great reminder that none of us are alone. We bonded quickly and enjoyed being together over the remainder of the course, sharing thoughts and experiences when there was opportunity to chat.

Sadly, with the arrival of Covid this program has ceased to operate for now but hopefully it will return once risk is reduced. As far as I know it’s the only program of its kind here in Australia, but I know it is modeled on similar courses in the UK. There may also be something similar in your area; it may not be specifically for AS but I would imagine courses designed for people with arthritis or chronic illness in general would still have value.

I’d strongly encourage you to check out what’s available near you!

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