Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that causes chronic inflammation of the spinal joints. It is an autoimmune disease, and the condition is marked by pain in the back and other joints, reduced mobility of the spine, and fatigue. There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, and you have to go through life managing the condition with the help of medications and other therapies. One such treatment that is supposed to help manage the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis is yoga. It is believed that the gentle stretching involved in yoga can help you with flexibility and also alleviate some of the pain associated with Ankylosing spondylitis. Read on to find out whether yoga can really help with symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis or not.
Understanding Ankylosing Spondylitis
Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory condition that causes some of the vertebrae in the lower back to start fusing together. The disease can also affect other areas in the body, including:
- Hip and shoulder joints
- Cartilage between the ribs and the breastbone
- Parts where bones attach to the ligaments and tendons
- The joint between the pelvis and the base of the spine
It is not yet clear as to what exactly causes ankylosing spondylitis, but it is believed to have a strong genetic disposition.
How Does Yoga Help in Ankylosing Spondylitis?
Ankylosing spondylitis can cause severe pain, especially in the lower back. Lower back pain can be so bad that it can make it difficult for a person to go about their daily activities. Severe pain caused by ankylosing spondylitis sometimes does not get treated with traditional pain medications, and these traditional pain killers might also have uncomfortable side effects. In such cases, an alternative treatment such as yoga might help.
Yoga involves gentle stretching exercises that helps in relieving pain and also helps increase the flexibility of the affected joints. Yoga is known to also stabilize your core so that there is a better support to the spine.
In 2012, a meta-analysis of ten research studies discovered that yoga helps in relieving chronic and severe lower back pain.1 The study also found that yoga can be recommended as a treatment plan for patients who have back pain, especially those who are not improving with any other self-care treatments.
The important thing is that the benefits of yoga for patients of ankylosing spondylitis are not just physical. Another study published in 2012 in the Indian Journal of Palliative Care and carried out by the Bangalore Institute of Oncology in India(2), found that yoga boosts relaxation and also helps in lowering anxiety levels. Yoga also helps calm down the nervous system, decrease pain levels and fatigue, and enables you to deal with the emotional issues of having to live life with a chronic illness that has no cure.
Ways in Which Yoga Helps in Ankylosing Spondylitis
Here are some of the ways in which yoga helps relieves the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis:
- Lowers the chances or severity of secondary complications from ankylosing spondylitis
- Helps improve your flexibility by maintaining and optimizing joint mobility and alignment
- Optimizes muscle functioning and muscle health
- Helps improve the management of ankylosing spondylitis symptoms
- Helps maximize efficient breathing patterns, which, in turn, enables you to move better
- Promotes the self-management of pain
- Increases your self-efficacy
- Maximizes the functional capacity and your overall quality of life
- Optimizes the feelings of joy, gratitude, and pleasure
Yoga Poses Perfect for Ankylosing Spondylitis
If you want to practice yoga for ankylosing spondylitis, then consistency is key here. After all, if you perform one single yoga pose every now and then, it is unlikely going to do anything to relieve your back pain. So doing a series of yoga poses every day is going to help you get relief from pain and other symptoms of the disease.
The time of the day when you do yoga is also essential. You are likely to be too stiff to carry out a full yoga routine in the morning when you wake up. So it is better to choose a time of the day when your muscles have had time to relax. You can also break up your yoga routine to do some poses throughout the day. For example, try doing the easier poses in the morning and the more challenging poses for later on in the day.
Here are some yoga poses that are known to relieve pain in people with ankylosing spondylitis.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
The Child’s Pose, or the Balasana, is a restful yoga pose that you can put in between the more challenging poses of yoga.(3) This yoga pose helps stretch out your lower back and your hips as well. Some of the benefits of the Child’s Pose for people who have ankylosing spondylitis include:(4)
It is excellent for calming the mind as the inward fold of the body helps send a signal to the brain that you are safe and that it is okay for you to rest. People with ankylosing spondylitis often experience anxiety and depression due to their condition, and this pose is perfect for calming down the mind.
It helps in the digestion process. Another issue that ankylosing spondylitis patients often have is problems with their digestion. The Child’s Pose helps massage the internal organs, which helps move the digestion process along.
It helps elongate the lower back. The main problematic area in people with ankylosing spondylitis is the lower back. In this condition, there will be compression that builds up in the lower back, and doing this yoga pose helps you to open up and stretch out the lower back in particular. The pose reverses the splaying of your tailbone, which is one of the leading causes of lower back pain.
It also helps open up the hips. The pose helps reduce any hip pain you might be having due to ankylosing spondylitis. It also helps improve and maintaining the health of the hip joints.
This yoga pose helps stretch out the spine, chest, and neck.(5) This is a beginner’s backbend posture in yoga, and some of the benefits offered by the bridge pose include:
- It helps stretch out the spin, which is affected by ankylosing spondylitis
- It helps expand your chest and also boosts lung function
- It improves blood circulation
- It helps relieve insomnia, another problem that people with ankylosing spondylitis often experience
- It helps stimulate your abdominal organs, improving digestion
- It increases your energy levels
- It helps treat back pain and is recommended for osteoporosis to strengthen the back
Downward Facing Dog Pose
The downward facing dog pose helps stretch out your back and promotes flexibility.(6) This is one of the most widely recognized poses in yoga, and it offers many benefits for people with ankylosing spondylitis.(7)
It is done to work out any kinks in the body and also boosts the blood flow to the brain. It helps strengthen, energize, and lengthen every muscle set, but you must learn how to do the pose correctly in order to reap the benefits.
The downward facing dog also helps strengthen the arms and shoulders, helps tone your waist and core, lengthens the calves and the hamstrings, and also strengthens the back while stretching the spine. The yoga pose is therapeutic for back care and also helps heal the body on many levels. Stretching and lengthening the spin also brings in more oxygen to your body, helping strengthen the entire back body as you practice this yoga pose.
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
The cobra or snake pose helps stretch your back, lungs, and chest as it lifts your chest off the floor, while also straightening out your arms.(8) This yoga pose is often recommended for people who have ankylosing spondylitis, arthritis, or any other condition that affects the joints or the back. Some of the benefits of the cobra pose include:(9)
- It helps strengthen the spine
- It helps stretch our your chest and lungs, abdomen, and the shoulders
- It firms up the buttocks and strengthens the hip muscles
- The pose helps alleviate fatigue and stress
- It opens up the heart and lungs
- It is a therapeutic pose for asthma
- It helps soothe back pain
- It increases your immunity, body heat, and is also known to awaken the ‘kundalini’
Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
The locust pose is beneficial for strengthening your lower back muscles, helping alleviate the pain in ankylosing spondylitis patients.(10) The pose also helps strengthen the back, leg muscles, and the glutes. It stretches out the front of your open, helping open up the shoulders and chest. At the same time, it also stimulates the abdominal organs.
Other benefits of the locust pose include:(11)
- Reducing abdominal fat and toning the abdomen
- Helps repair the entire spinal cord while also replenishing it
- Strengths the neck muscles, rectifying neck pain and repairing any defects in the neck joints
- Helps to correct urinary disorders
- Helps boost digestion by improving the activity of the intestines as it stretches them
- Helps strengthen the hip bones, reducing any excessive thigh muscles
The cow pose is also a good pose for those with ankylosing spondylitis.(12) It helps warm the spine and also releases any tension in the spine. This is also a powerful pose for the mind as it increases coordination, increases focus, and is also known to boost the life force within the body. At the same time, it is associated with an increase in emotional balance and stability of the mind.
Physically, also, the pose helps relieve stress in the body, alleviates lower back pain, and also increases the flexibility of the spine, neck, and shoulders. The movement associated with the pose also helps stretch the muscles of the back, hips, chest, abdomen, and the lungs.(2)
The cat pose elongates and strengthens your neck and spine.(13) It provides a gentle massage to your spine as well as the abdominal muscles and organs. The benefits of the cat pose to people with ankylosing spondylitis include:(14)
- It stretches the back and the neck
- It increases the circulation of spinal fluid
- It gently massages the spin, thus increasing your mobility
- It also strengthens the hand muscles and wrists
However, if you have a neck injury, then you should keep your head in a neutral position while doing the cat pose.
Be aware that some of these yoga poses can be difficult and painful when you first begin practicing yoga. However, you should not give up so easily. Take it slow and easy, and most importantly, listen to your body. It is normal to experience some mild pain during or even after the first couple of times you do the yoga poses. But if you find that the pain is severe and you are unable to tolerate it, then you should stop and discontinue the poses.
There are some types of yoga that are known to be more intensive than others — for instance, practitioners of Bikram yoga practice yoga in a heated and humid room.
Similarly, Vinyasa yoga and Ashtanga yoga are known to be more fast-paced and intensive. This is why before you decide to start yoga, you should consider discussing your options with your doctor. It is usually recommended that you begin with Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is a slower-paced and is known to focus on stretching, which is especially helpful for people who have ankylosing spondylitis. Only try yoga for treating ankylosing spondylitis after consulting your doctor.
- Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Haller, H. and Dobos, G., 2013. A systematic review and meta-analysis of yoga for low back pain. The Clinical journal of pain, 29(5), pp.450-460.
- Vallath, N., 2010. Perspectives on Yoga inputs in the management of chronic pain. Indian journal of palliative care, 16(1), p.1.
- Yoga Journal. (2019). Child’s Pose. [online] Available at: https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/child-s-pose [Accessed 7 Aug. 2019].
- DOYOUYOGA.COM. (2019). 5 Health Benefits Of Child’s Pose. [online] Available at: https://www.doyouyoga.com/5-health-benefits-of-childs-pose/ [Accessed 7 Aug. 2019].
Yoga Journal. (2019). Bridge Pose. [online] Available at: https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/bridge-pose [Accessed 7 Aug. 2019].
- Yogainternational.com. (2019). Downward Facing Dog Pose. [online] Available at: https://yogainternational.com/article/view/downward-facing-dog-pose [Accessed 7 Aug. 2019].
- DOYOUYOGA.COM. (2019). 5 Benefits of Downward Facing Dog Pose. [online] Available at: https://www.doyouyoga.com/5-benefits-of-downward-facing-dog-pose-78131/ [Accessed 7 Aug. 2019].
- Yoga Journal. (2019). Cobra Pose. [online] Available at: https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/cobra-pose [Accessed 7 Aug. 2019].
- Ekhartyoga.com. (2019). Cobra Pose-Bhujangasana-Ekhart Yoga | Ekhart Yoga. [online] Available at: https://www.ekhartyoga.com/resources/yoga-poses/cobra-pose [Accessed 7 Aug. 2019].
- Yoga Journal. (2019). Locust Pose. [online] Available at: https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/locust-pose [Accessed 7 Aug. 2019].
- Top 10 Yoga School in Rishikesh india. (2019). Health benefits of Salabhasana (Locust Pose) – Top 10 Yoga School in Rishikesh india. [online] Available at: https://arogyayogaschool.com/blog/health-benefits-of-salabhasana-locust-pose/ [Accessed 7 Aug. 2019].
- Yoga Journal. (2019). Cow Pose (Bitilasana). [online] Available at: https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/cow-pose [Accessed 7 Aug. 2019].
- DOYOUYOGA.COM. (2019). The Holistic Benefits of Cat/Cow Pose. [online] Available at: https://www.doyouyoga.com/the-holistic-benefits-of-catcow-pose-56731/ [Accessed 7 Aug. 2019].
- Yoga Journal. (2019). Cat Pose. [online] Available at: https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/cat-pose [Accessed 7 Aug. 2019].
- Ekhartyoga.com. (2019). Cat Pose – Majaryasana | Ekhart Yoga. [online] Available at: https://www.ekhartyoga.com/resources/yoga-poses/cat-pose [Accessed 7 Aug. 2019].
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