How Regular Stretching Relieves My AS Pain
Last updated: January 2023
“Be sure to stretch” was one of the few pieces of advice I walked away with when I was told I had AS.
The message got lost for a while in the general sense of overwhelm that comes with a significant diagnosis, but it has been repeated by every health professional I’ve dealt with since.
Even though I embarked on major lifestyle changes (largely to do with diet in those early days) it still took me a couple of years before I developed my own stretching routine.
Fast forward to today and it’s one thing that’s non-negotiable in my maintenance strategy for living well with this condition.
Stretching the muscles in my back, feet, neck, shoulders and legs makes a big difference to my pain and stiffness. I’ve worked out a routine that focuses on all my key problem areas and I’ve noticed when I stop stretching the tightness soon comes back.
I asked my physiotherapist why stretching is so helpful to me
Her explanation was that tight muscles become shorter and weaker over time. This increases the likelihood of injury to those muscles and in turn the joints they support. Stretching on a regular basis lengthens and strengthens the muscles and allows the body to move freely and remain in a flexible state.
Two years ago I developed extremely painful feet. Like many people with AS, I had another inflammatory condition going on called Plantar Fasciitis. The muscle under one foot had become so tight it had torn during a long walk in unsupportive shoes.
Repairing that muscle tear took time and patience, and with the help of a podiatrist I learned the importance of stretching my calves and feet every day. It’s a simple routine I now do after my morning shower which takes just a few minutes.
My SI joints are a key problem area
I know when my hamstrings and hips are tight this will irritate my SI joint and set off that awful nighttime pain familiar to those of us with AS.
Doing some classes with “Yoga for AS” taught me a series of really helpful stretches that loosen up the hamstrings and get deep into the muscles supporting the SI joint.
When I first tried the pose called “Reclined Pigeon” I had to go really slowly and gently as the area was so incredibly tight. Over time this has become my go-to posture for relieving back pain as it is just so effective. It’s something I can even do in bed if I wake up with some discomfort during the night. Just a few minutes stretching each side and I will generally go back to sleep until morning.
Listening to my body
During times when my inflammation is high it can feel painful and difficult to stretch. I used to try and push through this pain and it often resulted in injury. Experience has taught me this is a clear message from my body; it’s time to get back on my medication so that I can bring the inflammation down and still keep my body moving.
If you’re keen to develop your own stretching routine I’d encourage you to talk to a physiotherapist, exercise physiologist, yoga or pilates instructor who has an understanding of AS. There are good video resources available online relating to stretches for AS too.
Making sure your muscles are warm (eg after a hot shower or bath) and your inflammation is at a manageable level will also make stretching easier. Always be sure to start small so you’re dealing with a manageable level of discomfort rather than pain.
I hope a stretching routine helps you as much as it has helped me!
Have you ever had to take a leave of absence from work due to your symptoms?
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