Managing Ankylosing Spondylitis with Massage Therapy and Nutrition

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Did you know that April is Spondylitis Awareness Month? You might not have heard of ankylosing spondylitis–a type of arthritis that affects the vertebrae in your spine–but it’s actually about as common as rheumatoid arthritis. Although it tends to be underdiagnosed, estimates indicate that about 1 percent of the population will develop ankylosing spondylitis over the course of their lifetime. The disease has no known cause, but there is a genetic component that has been associated with the development of the disease. Symptoms typically start to appear in early adulthood, between the ages of 15 and 30.

Even though there is currently no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, it is important to keep it on your radar, especially as a young person or a parent, because the symptoms can escalate more quickly if the condition goes untreated. Catching ankylosing spondylitis early gives you the chance to take action to support your health and maximize your quality of life (or that of your child). Read on to learn more about identifying ankylosing spondylitis and how both massage and diet can relieve symptoms and improve patients’ overall quality of life.

Red Flags for Ankylosing Spondylitis

Because ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that causes inflammation in the vertebrae of your spine, it can limit your flexibility and lead to chronic pain in your back, shoulders, hips, ribs, or even your hands and feet. If you have a family history of ankylosing spondylitis (or a related arthritic condition, like psoriatic arthritis or arthritis due to inflammatory bowel disease), it’s important to be on the lookout for red flags during adolescence. Even if you don’t have a family history, you should still take note of the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained lower back pain that actually gets worse (not better) after you rest
  • Ongoing pain in your hips and buttocks
  • Unexplained neck pain
  • Stiffness in your joints, including your wrists and ankles
  • Tendon and ligament pain
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

These are some of the most common early indicators of ankylosing spondylitis, and recognizing them can allow you to start working with healthcare practitioners to respond.

The Benefits of Massage for Patients with Ankylosing Spondylitis

Once you have been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, there are a variety of things you can do to manage the condition. For many patients, a particularly effective option is massage therapy. Getting a deep tissue massage improves your circulation, and the blood flow can help reduce inflammation throughout your body. It can also help improve your flexibility by loosening up your muscles and reducing the stiffness in your joints. That can make it easier for you to engage in regular physical activity, which is essential for slowing the progression of the disease and maintaining your mobility for the long term.

As a patient with ankylosing spondylitis, another massage modality you may want to consider is neuromuscular massage therapy (NMT). Like deep tissue massage, this massage modality can help with inflammation reduction and muscle relaxation by improving blood flow. In addition, the treatment you receive is targeted to you, as a unique individual, which is important because ankylosing spondylitis impacts different patients in different ways. When you choose NMT, you can work with your therapist to make sure that the massage targets the parts of your body that are most affected by your ankylosing spondylitis.  

Whichever modality you choose, getting a massage can help reduce stress. It can be a mental challenge to deal with the the effects of ankylosing spondylitis, so it’s no surprise that ankylosing spondylitis is associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Massage therapy is known to prevent the release of two key stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline), and it may also stimulate nerve endings in a way that promotes the relief of mood-boosting endorphins. Therefore, as a patient with ankylosing spondylitis, getting a regular massage may help improve your overall outlook.

Optimizing Your Diet for Relief from Ankylosing Spondylitis

Because ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory condition, it may be beneficial to increase your intake of nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties–like omega-3 fatty acids or curcumin–either by taking a nutritional supplement or including nutrient-rich foods in your diet. There is also preliminary research indicating that vitamin D levels are associated with both the risk of ankylosing spondylitis and the severity of symptoms. Therefore, whether you’re looking to prevent the disease or manage your condition, a vitamin D supplement may be a smart choice. One meal idea you might consider is fish curry. Fatty fish like salmon are high in both vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, and you can benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin from the turmeric in your curry, especially when it is paired with black pepper, which increases the bioavailability.


Atlanta Chiropractic and Wellness offers multiple massage modalities that can help patients with ankylosing spondylitis and other inflammatory conditions. You can also get nutritional advice from our chiropractors and find high-quality supplements that support your long-term health. Contact us today for more information!

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