First Steps Toward Axial Spondyloarthritis Treatment

Learning you have a chronic disease can be confusing. Focus on these four things to start managing axial spondyloarthritis, including ankylosing spondylitis.

If you just found out you have axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA), you may have mixed feelings. You might be worried about the future but also relieved to know what’s wrong. Now is a good time to take steps to control your disease.

Learn All You Can

There are two types of axSpA: nonradiographic axSpA (nr-axSpA) and ankylosing spondylitis (AS). Their symptoms and treatments  are the same. The difference is that nr-axSpA doesn’t show up on X-rays, but AS does. 

Pain usually starts in the joints at the base of the spine, but it can show up in other joints, too. Certain connective tissues can also be affected. This often happens at your heel, making it painful to walk on hard floors. An eye problem called uveitis  is common in axSpA. You’ll have to get your eyes checked at least once per year.
Ask your doctors what to expect. Talk about what medicines are best for you. Learn to recognize a flare, when to contact your doctor and what you can do at home to feel better.    

Start Exercising

Everyone should exercise, but it’s crucial if you have axSpA. Exercise  can keep your spine flexible and upright. Swimming, yoga, tai chi and Pilates are great because they stretch your back. But cardio, weight training and posture training are just as vital. 

A physical therapist  will work with you to develop a well-rounded program. Try to go PT as often as your doctor says and exercise on your own every day in between. 

Partner With Your Doctors

Shared decision making is when you work with your health-care team to make choices that align with what you care about most. For example, axSpA treatment usually involves physical therapy, exercise and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). But maybe NSAIDs like Advil hurt your stomach. You and your doctor should talk  about that and make a plan together. 

A good doctor-patient relationship is built on trust. You understand and respect your doctor’s point of view. And your doctor understands and respects yours. This kind of medical teamwork improves care and outcomes. 

Stay Connected 

Living with a painful chronic illness can leave you feeling lonely, isolated and depressed. To avoid that hurt, stay connected with others and talk about your feelings with someone you trust. You may choose a friend or family member. Or, you can join an online or local support group of people who understand how you feel because they’ve walked in your shoes. 
The Arthritis Foundation’s LiveYes Network  is a great place to start. There’s an online community as well as in-person groups around the country. Or you can volunteer through one of our local offices  or attend a Walk to Cure Arthritis in your city. Just find an environment that makes you feel empowered and supported.

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