Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic autoimmune disease that can result in severe disability. All over the world, the prevalence of this disease varies from 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent. The symptoms associated with AS usually include back pain, progressive rigidity and stiffness over the neck, shoulder, hip and sacroiliac joints. With the progress of the disease, patients can suffer from reduced quality of life due to significant disability.

While conventional medicines increase the chances of side effects, the ancient science of yoga can be beneficial in promoting flexibility and reducing pain. In fact, a meta-analysis of 10 studies in 2012 revealed that yoga assists in relieving chronic lower back pain. It was also concluded by the study that yoga can be an effective therapy for back pain patients who do not witness any improvement with other self-care treatments. Another retrospective study published by the National Library of Medicine showed that yoga intervention in AS patients can significantly improve spinal flexibility and lung capacity. Breathwork and stretching can be beneficial for AS.

The stretch and movement associated with yoga poses are beneficial and help alleviate the low back pain that comes with AS. However, it is important that people practice it mindfully and listen to their bodies. Whenever there is pain associated with a certain pose, it should not be practiced anymore. While stretching and flexibility helps with AS but it is the breathwork that can truly make a difference in AS patients since it expands the chest. Some people with Ankylosing Spondylitis tend to have a slumped posture and the expansion of the chest with diaphragmatic breathing can support posture.

Ankylosing Spondylitis causes inflammation that may result in fusing of some of the vertebrae in the lower back. It can also affect other areas like cartilage between the ribs and breastbone, shoulder and hip joints, areas in the body where the bones are attached to ligaments and tendons, heels and eyes. However, daily practise of yoga can take a turn for the good for AS patients. While mild pain is normal during the initial phases of practise, if there is severe pain, the movement must be stopped.

Here are three postures that can help pain management.

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog Pose)

  • Stand on all fours with the shoulders above the wrists and the hips above the knees
  • Bring the hands slightly forward and rotate the upper arms to broaden your collarbones
  • Extend and lengthen the spine, by pressing through the palms of the hands and balls of the feet
  • While breathing properly hold the position for 30 seconds and release

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

  • Kneel down on the floor and sit on the heels
  • Inhale and lift the arms up
  • While exhaling bring the upper body down
  • Rest the pelvis on your heels and place the forehead on the floor
  • Don’t hunch your back

Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

  • Lie down flat on the stomach
  • Place the palms under the shoulders
  • Keep the toes together with the feet on the ground
  • Inhale and gradually lift the head, shoulders and torso to an angle of 30 degrees
  • Slightly raise the head and broaden the shoulders
  • Release down the torso and exhale

(The writer is the chief yoga officer, Jindal Naturecure Institute)

  – Dr Rajiv Rajesh – CYO, Jindal Naturecure Institute