Fighting Spondylitis the Natural Way

Ankylosing spondylitis patients can add natural therapies to their conventional treatment plan

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

If you have ankylosing spondylitis, you know the symptoms can come and go. But when you are feeling it, the pain can be crippling. While medications can help you manage pain and swelling, there are also natural ways to get your condition under control.

Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory form of arthritis that causes pain and stiffness in the spinal joints and the joints between the spine and pelvis. Over time, the spinal bones can fuse together.

This painful condition is not limited to the spine. It also can affect the ankles, heels, ribs, hips, shoulders, hands, and even the eyes.

There is a variety of drugs your doctor can prescribe to treat ankylosing spondylitis. Most of these drugs are made to control inflammation and pain.

Medications can do only so much, though. There are other steps you can take to put treatment in your own hands.

Natural therapies - including exercise, posture correction, and complementary medicines - can get you on your feet, living an active life once again.

Do not let ankylosing spondylitis control your life. Working with your doctor, a physical therapist, and other experts, you can develop a treatment plan that involves more than medications.


Exercise is good for you whether you have ankylosing spondylitis or not.

For those with ankylosing spondylitis, physical activity or exercise can improve pain over time. In addition, regular exercise can increase flexibility and reduce stiffness.

You cannot do just any kind of exercise, however. Remember, you are not training for the Olympics. You are treating a disease.

It is important to listen to your body when exercising. Begin with workouts that loosen up your muscles. Do not overwork yourself. Ask your doctor what exercises will work for you personally.

With the help of your doctor and a physical therapist, you will likely do activities that fall under three main categories of exercise: flexibility exercises, strengthening exercises, and aerobic exercises.

Flexibility Exercises

Both stretching and range-of-motion exercises help you maintain or improve the flexibility of your joints and muscles. Improved flexibility can reduce the risk of injury, improve posture, and boost joint function.

In range-of-motion exercises, you gently bend and extend your joints as far as they can comfortably go. These can be done 5 to 10 times a day in the comfort of your home or at work.

Stretching is another simple activity you can easily fit into your daily schedule.

Yoga is one activity that involves both stretching and range-of-motion exercises.

Strengthening Exercises

Building the right muscles can take some of the stress off of painful joints while also giving them more support. Strengthening exercises will help you build these muscles.

Weightlifting is one kind of strengthening exercise. It is important not to lift too much weight, though, as it can cause further damage to your joints.

Strengthening workouts for ankylosing spondylitis patients are likely to include resistance exercises like raising a limb against gravity, lifting light weights, or pulling elastic bands. Moving through water may give some patients all the resistance they need.

Aerobic Exercises

It is common for people with ankylosing spondylitis to feel the most pain and stiffness at night or in the morning. As such, the condition can take a huge toll on the quality of your sleep and overall health.

In addition to boosting muscle function around your joints, aerobic exercises can improve your mood, sleep, and general health.

Aerobic exercises also can help you lose weight. Getting rid of excess weight can take some stress off of your affected joints.

Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, bicycling, aerobic dance, and water exercises. You can also get your aerobic exercise through using equipment like treadmills and stationary bikes.


Good posture is key to how you look and feel as a spondylitis patient.

When patients start to feel pain in the spine, they can tend to hunch over. While this may seem to temporarily take the strain of gravity off your spine, a bent posture actually puts more strain on your joints.

You may work with a physical therapist or on your own to improve your posture.

Standing Tall

Holding your chin in the right position is the first step to a straight posture. Whether you are sitting or standing, you should hold your chin horizontal to the floor, pulled back slightly and to the center.

Back Against the Wall

You can check your posture by standing straight with your back against a wall in front of a mirror. Your heels should be four inches from the wall, with your shoulders and buttocks as close to the wall as possible.

Try to hold this position for five seconds, then relax and repeat.

You should keep track of your spine alignment by measuring the space between the back of your head and the wall. If you notice any significant changes, talk to you doctor.

Other Ways to Maintain Good Posture

If you spend a lot of time with one person, give him or her permission to let you know when you are hunching. Hopefully, you won't need reminding after some time.

Your bed can also impact your posture. It does not need to be hard, but firm.

Try not to bend your body while sleeping. Pillows can overextend your neck. If you need some head support, you can use a small folded towel.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are the treatments that are not currently considered part of conventional Western medicine. What is considered CAM or conventional is always changing. When a CAM treatment is shown to be safe and effective, it often becomes part of traditional treatment. That is, it is no longer "alternative".

There are many alternative treatments that patients try in order to control the pain of ankylosing spondylitis. Even though most of these treatments have not been rigorously tested, a great deal of ankylosing spondylitis patients say they have felt improvements through CAM.


Acupuncture involves sticking ultra-fine needles into the skin at specific points around the body.

Scientists are still not sure how exactly acupuncture affects the body. One thought is that the needles send a signal to the brain and spinal cord to release opium-like molecules that reduce pain.

A limited amount of studies have shown that acupuncture improves pain in some people. If performed by a trained professional, the practice is safe.


Massage is not going to realign your spine or eliminate your pain. However, many ankylosing spondylitis patients find that it does relieve an amount of pain while also reducing stress.

If your massage therapist knows you are suffering from ankylosing spondylitis, he or she may be able to design a massage geared towards relieving pain and improving your well-being.

Massage may not sure your condition, but it sure won't make it worse.

Traditional Medicine

It is unclear whether traditional medicine - or more specifically, Chinese medicine - is effective in treating patients with ankylosing spondylitis.

A few studies have shown limited support for the use of traditional medicines. However, much more research is needed before such treatments can be considered safe and effective.

Getting Started

Whether you are starting a conventional therapy or a CAM treatment, it is crucial to talk about it with your doctor first. He or she can guide you through both medical and natural treatments.

What works for one patient may not work for another. With the help of your doctor and other experts, you can find which exercises and therapies will work best for your specific needs. 

Review Date: 
April 11, 2012