Spondylitis, also known as spondyloarthritis (SpA) or “spondy”, is a type of arthritis that predominantly affects the spine. It can limit a person’s mobility, physical activities, ability to work, and other facets of daily life.
Spondylitis is a chronic, life-long condition. Even so, you can live a full and fulfilling life with spondylitis. This article contains four tips for managing life with spondylitis.
What is Spondylitis?
A chronic, inflammatory type of arthritis, spondylitis primarily affects the joints and tissues of the spine. It can also affect other areas of the body, like the hips, knees, and shoulders. Spondylitis symptoms commonly include pain, redness, stiffness, and swelling.
The inflammation isn’t just joint specific, however. Spondylitis can result in full-body inflammation that causes issues with the eyes and vital organs like the heart and lungs.
While there are many effective treatment options for spondylitis, there are also different lifestyle changes that can help you manage symptoms.
1. Move Your Body
Exercise can be a helpful way to manage spondylitis symptoms. Regular exercise has been shown to alleviate pain and stiffness, improve flexibility, and help prevent irreversible joint damage in people with spondylitis. If you have spondylitis, aim to get a little bit of exercise every day. Just five or ten minutes of daily exercise can make all the difference.
Cardiovascular exercises like walking, swimming, and cycling, help to increase your heart and breathing rates, and promote overall health. Strength-building exercises help build muscle strength, which supports your bones and joints, and can help manage painful spondylitis symptoms.
2. Stretch Regularly
Stretching, performed in a chair or through a yoga or tai chi practice, can be helpful in combating stiffness due to spondylitis. Stretching can also help build muscle strength, improve mobility, and improve balance. Work closely with your healthcare provider to identify exercises that are good for you and your health.
3. Try A Diet Rich in Anti-Inflammatory Foods
There’s no one special diet for ankylosing spondylitis. However, an anti-inflammatory diet could help improve symptoms. Below are some dietary tips, which, as part of your doctor’s treatment plan, could help improve your symptoms and overall health:
- Try eating more anti-inflammatory foods, including those high in antioxidants (green tea, red fruits and berries), omega-3 fatty acids (salmon), and high-fiber foods (whole wheat, quinoa).
- Add more calcium to your diet through dark leafy greens (kale, collards, and broccoli) and low-fat dairy products (cheese, milk, and yogurt).
- Eat more vitamin D-rich foods such as eggs and fish (salmon and tuna).
- Limit alcohol and caffeine.
- Drink lots of water every day.
- Avoid foods that promote inflammation – like those high in MSG, salt, or sugar and greasy, high-fat, or fried foods.
4. Find Practical Ways to Help Manage Stress
Stress doesn’t cause spondylitis. It is, however, a common trigger. In other words, intense or constant stress can make your symptoms worse or your condition more active. This is also sometimes called a disease flare up.
When you have spondylitis, it’s especially important that you find effective ways to reduce and better manage the various stressors in your life.
Some suggestions for stress reduction and emotional self-care include:
- Ask for help – if you need assistance with daily activities like running errands or just need a listening ear, don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help when you need it.
- Try stress-relieving activities like mindfulness and meditation.
- Consider keeping a journal to help work through whatever is bothering you.
- Take steps to improve sleep hygiene. Sometimes getting more sleep can help manage stress levels.
- Join an online or in-person support group for people with spondylitis or chronic pain.
- Seek counseling from a mental health professional to help you manage your emotional well-being.
Stress is often unavoidable, especially when you’re living with a chronic illness. However, practicing ways to manage stress and improve mental health should be a priority for the treatment and management of chronic conditions.
Find What Works for You
Spondylitis can be unpredictable, and often manifests differently in each person it affects. There’s no one-size-fits-all drug regimen, treatment plan, or lifestyle that will work for every person living with spondylitis. You may have to try different approaches over time to find what works best for your unique needs.