Spondyloarthritis is a group of inflammatory spine and joint conditions that includes ankylosing spondylitis (AS), axial spondyloarthritis, and enteropathic spondyloarthritis. Workouts can play a key role in managing AS.

People with AS experience varying degrees of back pain and stiffness. Some people can develop fused bones in the spine, which cause rigidity.

Exercise is more helpful for AS than for any other form of arthritis. In particular, it can help people manage their pain and maintain their physical function.

This article will explain how exercises can help manage AS and will discuss some workouts people can try: aqua stretching, yoga, cycling, tai chi, Pilates, and exercises to do at home.

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According to the Spondylitis Association of America (SAA), exercise and wellness practices are an important part of treating spondyloarthritis.

The SAA says exercise is more important for managing AS than for any other type of arthritis. Regular exercise can help with posture, stiffness, pain, fatigue, breathing capacity, and overall function.

It can also help a person retain more mobility and flexibility.

These benefits are in addition to the ones everyone gets from exercise, such as:

  • increasing strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility
  • improving cardiovascular endurance
  • regulating blood pressure
  • increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels
  • maximizing bone density
  • managing weight
  • potentially enhancing response to medications

What is AS?

AS is a type of arthritis that falls under the umbrella term “spondyloarthritis.” It causes inflammation of the joints and ligaments in the spine, which can lead to stiffness over time.

Some people experience mild bouts of back pain and stiffness that come and go, while others live with severe pain.

People with severe forms of the condition can develop fused vertebrae, meaning that bones in the spine join together. This can result in a rigid and inflexible spine.

Some types of exercise are especially beneficial for managing AS.

Learn more about AS.

In a small 2022 study, researchers assigned a total of 40 people with AS to one of three groups: Aqua Stretch, Aqua Pilates, and a control group.

The two treatment groups took part in four 60-minute training sessions per week for 6 weeks. The control group received only regular drug treatment, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and anti-tumor necrosis factor medications.

The results showed that both Aqua Stretch and Aqua Pilates had a significant impact on test scores for pain, function, quality of life, walking, and spinal range of motion.

Aqua Stretch performed slightly better than Aqua Pilates, and the control group showed no improvement in test scores.

Learn more about different exercises for AS.

The authors of a 2018 review assessed the effects of exercise programs on disease activity and function in people with AS. Supervised and home-based exercises could include online workouts done at home and gym classes with an instructor.

The researchers analyzed 8 trials involving 331 people with AS who took part in a range of exercise programs:

  • Two trials assessed a home-based exercise program.
  • One trial assessed swimming.
  • One trial assessed Pilates.
  • Four trials assessed supervised exercises.

All but one of the trials showed improvements in disease activity and function after the intervention.

Despite the variation in the exercise programs, the researchers concluded that exercise programs can potentially improve disease activity and body function in people with AS.

A retrospective study from 2021 examined the effect of a 2-week residential yoga intervention on the spinal flexibility of 24 males ages 30–50 years who had AS.

The intervention involved yoga postures, breathing practices, meditation, healthy diet, and spiritual practices.

The researchers analyzed before-and-after data on the sit-and-reach test, which is a measure of flexibility of the lower back and hamstrings, as well as blood pressure, heart rate, and symptom scores.

The results revealed significant improvements in sit-and-reach test, systolic blood pressure, and heart rate scores after the intervention. The participants’ symptoms and use of pain medications also significantly improved after the intervention as compared to before.

Learn more about the benefits of yoga.

A small randomized controlled trial from 2023 assessed the effects of clinical Pilates training on AS.

A group of 21 people who did Pilates three times per week for 8 weeks showed statistically significant improvements in disease activity, function, spinal mobility, quality of life, core muscle endurance, and stability.

A group of 21 people who did a home exercise program for 8 weeks showed improvements in only joint flexor muscle endurance and limits of stability.

A 2020 study investigated the effect of tai chi exercises on disease activity, functionality, spinal mobility, quality of life, and inflammatory markers in people with AS.

The researchers split the 36 participants into a tai chi group and a home exercise group. Both programs involved 1 hour of exercise twice per week for 10 weeks. The researchers also encouraged the participants to practice at home.

The results showed that both types of exercise had positive effects on functionality, disease activity, spinal mobility, and quality of life. However, tai chi had a more beneficial effect on disease activity, ability to turn the head to the left or right, and quality of life, among other benefits.

The combination of a tai chi program and medical treatment helped reduce inflammatory markers such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein.

Learn more about the benefits of tai chi.

The United Kingdom’s National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society (NASS) recommends cycling for people with AS. However, a person should check with a doctor or physical therapist to find out whether this is a safe type of exercise for them.

The NASS suggests starting off slowly on reasonably flat ground, such as a smooth sidewalk or road, and avoiding bumps and rough ground that could jar the spine. A person can start with short journeys and build up to longer distances over time.

Learn more about the benefits of cycling.

AS is a type of arthritis that causes inflammation in the spine. This can lead to varying degrees of pain and stiffness.

Workouts can be more helpful for AS than for any other form of arthritis. Exercise can help improve posture, stiffness, pain, fatigue, breathing capacity, and overall function.

Types of exercise that could help relieve a person’s symptoms and improve their quality of life include Aqua Stretch, yoga, tai chi, and cycling.