Exercise and Posture
Exercise is an integral part of any spondylitis program. Fitting exercise into your day can be tough, but it needs to be done. Exercise is such a high priority that you must make time for it each day (even 5-10 minutes during a work break is helpful). If you do, many benefits will follow from your efforts. A spondylitis exercise program will help you maintain good posture, flexibility and eventually help to lessen pain.
In many cases, good posture and mobility can even be regained with proper doses of medicine and proper exercise. Most people with spondylitis say they feel much better after exercise.
People who have an exercise program that accomplishes their goals can stay with it. While sports and other physical activities are beneficial, they cannot be totally relied upon to assure erect posture and flexibility.
Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your physician or physical therapist. They can help provide modifications to suit your particular needs. Ask which exercises you should do, and then check to see that you are doing them correctly.
Exercise at a time of day that is convenient. If you are typically stiff in the morning, that may be the time to start loosening up, but you can only get your best stretches after the stiffness has lessened. Midday or evening may be the only times you are comfortable exercising. If necessary, split up your exercises during the day. For example, do exercises lying down first, then later in the day work on your neck stretches or deep breathing for chest expansion while at work. Do your exercises daily and begin with ‘warmup/loosen-up’ exercises. Above all, learn to ‘listen’ to your body. Learn to emphasize the areas that need the most exercise, whether it be stretching or strengthening.
Exercise in a comfortable area on a carpeted floor or mat. A mat provides comfort and protection by cushioning your spine and can be purchased at a sporting goods store. Beds usually have too much ‘give’, but a firm bed may be used if you cannot get onto or off of the floor easily. Music to fit your mood can help you relax while exercising.
It is normal to feel some discomfort or tolerable pain when beginning an exercise program. Even so, many people tend to overdo at first. Don’t assume that more is better. Approach any new routine cautiously, beginning with low repetitions regardless of your ability to do more. If pain after exercising is severe, you probably have gone past your limit and should reduce the intensity and number of repetitions next time. Reread instructions to make sure you are following all of the steps correctly.
Practicing good posture techniques impacts the way a person with spondylitis looks and feels.
Individuals with spondylitis often are painfully aware of the strains imposed by gravity. A vicious pain / poor posture cycle begins because of a tendency to bend over when experiencing pain in the spine, further increasing the amount of strain on the spine.
Bone fusion does not occur in everyone with spondylitis, yet fusing in a non-upright position is a valid concern. It is encouraging to know that we can influence the pattern of fusion through good postural habits.
Hold your head in a balanced manner over the trunk in a sitting or standing position. The chin should be horizontal and parallel to the floor, drawn back slightly and centered. Try to stand, walk and sit ‘tall’ at all times.
Within view of a full-size mirror, stand against a wall to check your posture. Place your heels about four inches away from the wall. Your buttocks and shoulders should be as close to the wall as possible- even touching lightly. Don’t strain. Hold for five seconds, relax, and do it again. It is important to keep a record of spine alignment (measurement from the back of the head to the wall), and this might be a good time to check for this. Report any changes to your doctor.
This is the best exercise for maintaining erect posture. Lie face down on a firm surface, such as the floor or a firm bed. If unable to lie flat in this position, place a pillow under your chest and a folded towel under your forehead. Start slowly; maybe you can only accomplish prone lying at first for a minute or two. It’s often helpful to do this posture training after a warm bath or shower or whenever the body is warmed up. The head may be positioned directly downward, resting on the hands, or turned to the left or right, or alternated during the course of twenty minutes.
- Give someone close to you permission to nag. Agree on a code word. Soon you won’t need reminding not to slouch.
- Try sleeping on a firm, but not hard, bed to maintain a good, non-bent resting posture at night. Avoid using a pillow, if possible, to prevent pain from over-extension of the neck and spine. Some people find that a small folded towel can take the place of a pillow.
- Splints, braces, and corsets are generally not advised for spondylitis patients.
- Restorative sleep is most important. This may mean side sleeping for some people. If this is your experience, daily prone lying is even more critical to your good posture.