alt=a person at physical therapy does a lumbar rotation on a yoga mat

Starting Physical Therapy

Since February 2022, I have been going to physiotherapy (physical therapy) once a week or every two weeks. My family doctor recommended physiotherapy so that I could become more active and gain mobility.

Being active and gaining spinal mobility is important for managing ankylosing spondylitis. Along with medical treatments, staying active can prevent or delay bone fusion and also strengthen muscles to support arthritic joints.

My first appointment

Even while booking my appointment, I stressed that I need a physiotherapist who is familiar with ankylosing spondylitis and fibromyalgia. I was nervous going into my first appointment but was pleasantly surprised by how it turned out. The physiotherapist was very familiar with my conditions and printed out several handouts to explain his approach to helping me.

He recommended stretches to mobilize and strengthen my whole body. Especially focusing on my back muscles to better support my spine. And also strengthening and increasing flexibility in my sacroiliac joints, hips, and knees.

These exercises include a cobra stretch, half cobra stretch, child's pose with side stretches, cat/cow stretch, seated knee extensions, hip extension, abduction, and flexion with resistance bands, wall squats, active straight leg raises, quadriceps over roll, bridges, lumbar rotations, and a stationary bike.
There are a couple more exercises as well but I don't know their names.

Ideally, I should do all of these exercises each day, in addition to other exercises throughout the day, such as walking my dog. But given the unpredictable nature of ankylosing spondylitis and flare-ups, this is not always possible.

Most days I am able to do half of the exercises

Even getting through just half of the exercises increases my mobility and reduces pain a bit. I used to beat myself up over not being able to do all the exercises each day, which made me feel as if I wasn't trying hard enough. I told my physiotherapist about this and he said physio looks different for each person. As long as I'm trying and listening to my body's cues and not over-exerting myself, I'm on the right track. And it's better to do a little bit than nothing at all.

Hearing him say this really helped me. Instead of pushing through and ending up in more pain, I was actually helping myself stay on track with physiotherapy by modifying the exercises according to my body's needs that day.

Before trying physiotherapy, I was not able to be active

At most, my exercise consisted of walking my dog once or twice a week. Often resulting in increased pain and fatigue. I had also tried yoga and even yoga specifically for ankylosing spondylitis but didn't find it very helpful as it would exacerbate my fibromyalgia symptoms.

This left me feeling very hopeless and frustrated. But getting help from professionals who understand how best to navigate physical activity with AS and fibro has helped me become more active. I'm still not a very active person, and likely never will be due to my symptoms, but that's okay because this is what my body needs and can do.

Becoming more active through physiotherapy has benefitted my mental and physical health immensely. My mobility is improving and I don't over-exert myself as much, leading to less pain overall.

Have you ever tried physiotherapy?

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