Useful lifestyle hints to help reduce
the impact of ankylosing spondylitis
on your day-to day life
A healthy lifestyle is essential for people with a chronic condition such as ankylosing spondylitis. To help manage the disease, it is important that you have a healthy diet, control your weight and avoid smoking.
It’s important to avoid being overweight so you do not put extra strain on your spine and other joints.
The risks of smoking are well known. Ankylosing spondylitis can reduce the movement of your rib cage when you breathe, making smoking-related lung damage more dangerous. If you smoke, consider cutting down or stopping completely – talk to your doctor for advice on quitting.
Excessive amounts of alcohol can interfere with your response to treatment, so try and limit how much alcohol you drink.
You should aim for a healthy, balanced diet:
- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
- Eat wholegrain cereals
- Eat low fat dairy products
- Choose lean meats and poultry without skin
- Oily fish such as salmon, trout and herring can lower your risk of heart disease
- Try and cut back on saturated fats (such as butter) and vegetable oils – use olive oil instead
- Cut down on foods and drinks containing added sugars
- Pre-packaged convenience food and fast food can often contain hidden calories and high levels of fat and salt, so try to eat fresh, homemade foods instead
- Keep an eye on your portion size
It may be useful to keep a food diary for a couple of weeks to track what you are eating and drinking, and to identify places where you could make healthier choices.
Speak to your doctor before you try any special diets.
Ankylosing spondylitis may affect your heels and feet. In these cases, you may benefit from custom-made insoles (orthotics). These can also help with aligning your lower limbs and relieving pain in the hips, pelvis or lower back. It’s a good idea to make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D, which are important for bone health.
Exercise is recommended for everyone, but it can be particularly beneficial if you have ankylosing spondylitis. Exercise can help you to:
- Reduce pain and stiffness
- Improve your flexibility and range of movement
- Improve your posture
- Improve your mood, energy and quality of sleep
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
People with ankylosing spondylitis can enjoy many different types of exercise, including:
- Stretching – it is important to have a daily stretching routine to improve strength and flexibility
- Walking – builds strength and maintains joint flexibility
- Cycling – a good, low impact option
- Swimming – a great, low impact option that helps build strength and ease stiff joints without jarring them
- Yoga or Tai chi – can help with posture and flexibility
You should avoid contact sports because the joints in your spine can be injured easily. If you enjoy competitive sports, choose a low-impact option such as badminton.
Too much exercise can make pain worse, so start slowly and build up your exercises over time. By setting yourself achievable and realistic goals, you will find it easier to stay motivated.
Talk to your doctor or physiotherapist before you start a new exercise regime. They will be able to help you plan an exercise programme that is suitable for you.
Ankylosing spondylitis can cause bones in the spine to fuse together, leading to a hunched posture. It’s therefore very important to pay special attention to your posture to help keep your spine flexible and prevent it becoming stuck in a bent position.
Try your best to maintain a good posture at all times. Avoid slouching in your chair, hunching over a desk, or walking with your shoulders hunched. Your physiotherapist can give you further advice on how to maintain a good posture and can suggest daily posture-training exercises for you to practice at home.
Ankylosing spondylitis can make you feel more tired than usual, so getting a good night’s sleep is important. However, night-time pain can make it hard to fall asleep and can even wake you up during the night. There are things you can do to give yourself the best chance of sleeping well:
- Keep your bedtime routine the same every day
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature
- Avoid eating or drinking large amounts just before bedtime
- Try a warm bath before you go to bed to help ease stiff or painful joints
- Make sure your mattress is supportive but not too hard – some people find memory foam mattresses helpful
- Try to use as few pillows as possible so that your neck stays in a good position
- Use your bedroom for stimulating activities like watching TV, working or eating
- Sleep during the day because this can make it more difficult to get to sleep at night
- Eat/drink caffeinated products after midday
- Drink alcohol if you experience serious sleep disturbance
- Smoke before bedtime or during the night
If you have problems with sleep that do not go away, speak to your doctor. They can offer more advice and prescribe medication if you need it.
Although it is important for everyone, learning to cope with stress is especially important if you have psoriatic arthritis. Avoiding stress is sometimes easier said than done, but the following advice could help:
- Try to identify situations that you find stressful, then take steps to avoid them or reduce their impact on you
- If you realise you're feeling stressed, take conscious steps to try and relax – techniques such as deep breathing, yoga or meditation can all help to clear your mind and reduce anxiety
- Speak to your doctor about the relaxation techniques you would like to try, or other methods that could help you to manage stress
Relationships can be complicated when you have a disease like ankylosing spondylitis. There are some simple steps that you can take to ensure that you are in control of your relationship.
If you are just starting a relationship, it can be difficult to tell the person you are dating that you have ankylosing spondylitis, but use your judgement to decide when and what to say about your condition.
Honesty is key. Although it may be tempting to try and hide away if you have ankylosing spondylitis, it is important to let your partner or spouse know how you feel – especially if psoriatic arthritis is getting you down.
Most people with ankylosing spondylitis can continue with work, but some people may need to make adjustments to their working life, such as working part-time or avoiding physically demanding work.
When at work, it is important to remember to keep a good posture. If you sit for long periods of time, you should get up, stretch and move around regularly.
Ask your physiotherapist for advice on simple exercises you can do at work.
For many people, ankylosing spondylitis can be an isolating condition. Finding support from others who understand how you feel and what you are going through could help you cope if you are finding things difficult. Support groups can increase your self-confidence, reduce feelings of isolation, and give you practical advice on dealing with your condition from others who have gone through the same experience. They can give you a chance to talk about things that someone without ankylosing spondylitis may not understand.
Support groups can also give you the opportunity to help others by sharing your experiences. There are national ankylosing spondylitis communities that you could get involved with, including:
If you are not sure if there is a support group in your area, talk to your doctor or nurse to find out if one is available, or check notice boards in health centres and pharmacies. If you find there isn’t a support group locally, you could think about starting one yourself.
Alternatively, try exploring the psoriatic arthritis groups and communities that exist on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, where you can share how you feel with others.