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2nd Opinion - A lifetime prescription of exercise

Physiotherapists can play a crucial role in helping patients with ankylosing spondylitis throughout their lives. Maddy Randall explains how.

There are 200,000 people who have ankylosing spondylitis (AS) in the UK.

A painful, progressive form of inflammatory arthritis, it usually begins in early adulthood and is a lifelong, incurable condition.

Exercise is one of the cornerstones of treatment.

Regular exercise helps flexibility, posture and assists with pain management and well-being.  

Many people with AS have heard about the benefits of exercise, but don’t do it regularly or don’t have a programme that is right for them.

This is a huge challenge for healthcare professionals who manage people with a long-term condition like AS.

A person diagnosed in their early 20s is looking at an average of 50 years of daily stretching.   

One AS patient told me: ‘I am 43 now and I was diagnosed with AS more than 15 years ago.

Now I wish I had done my exercises: everyone told me how important it was, but I chose not to listen.’

Keeping the exercise message alive is difficult if you don’t see patients regularly. In a members’ survey by the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society (NASS) in 2010, a third of all respondents reported that they were not currently attending a rheumatology clinic.

Many NHS trusts can only offer six physiotherapy sessions after diagnosis.

NASS has also teamed up with physiotherapists, rheumatologists and rehabilitation staff to create a fantastic gym guide aimed at encouraging newly diagnosed people with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) to exercise regularly.

The Back to Action programme covers mobility, cardiovascular, strength, flexibility and breathing exercises. It has been incredibly popular with patients and physiotherapists.

You can download the the programme in a book or app at:

NASS has a network of branches in the UK where over 900 people with AS exercise weekly in the evening in gyms and hydrotherapy pools.

The success of the NASS branches is due to do the dedicated support of over 120 physiotherapists who supervise the sessions.

Maddy Randall is NASS branch and policy development manager

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