What is Axial spondyloarthritis?
Zoë Clark, Senior Self-management Programme Officer at the National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society (NASS) explains the inflammatory arthritis condition and suggests some self-care strategies that can help ease pain.
Axial spondyloarthritis (axial SpA), including ankylosing spondylitis, is a type of inflammatory arthritis, that mainly affects the spine and other joints in the body. It causes joint pain, joint and muscle stiffness, and fatigue. It’s a condition that tends to start when people are younger, with the average age being 26.
Keeping active is essential for axial SpA. As it’s an inflammatory condition, the symptoms tend to feel easier with movement and worse with rest. Some people with axial SpA get inflammation in other areas of the body, such as the eyes, skin, or gut.
There are medications for axial SpA, such as anti-inflammatories and biologics therapies, but it’s important to remain active and practice good self-care. There are lots of self-care strategies that work alongside medications to help your symptoms and the impact they have on your life.
‘Keeping active is essential for axial SpA. As it’s an inflammatory condition, the symptoms tend to feel easier with movement and worse with rest.’
For example, using ice or heat locally on painful areas can help reduce muscle or joint pain. TENS machines can also be helpful for local areas of pain. While waiting for pain relieving techniques to start working, relaxation or distraction techniques can be useful. A distraction technique is anything that occupies your brain to help you overcome the pain sensations you’re experiencing, for example, reading, listening to music, watching a funny film, or doing some breathing exercises.
Many people with axial SpA also experience fatigue. Now, fatigue isn’t just tiredness – it’s an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. It can be both physical and mental.
It can take time to understand your fatigue and to find the right balance of rest and activity. Remember that axial SpA symptoms can fluctuate over time, and you may experience ‘flares’.
A flare is a period of time when your symptoms are worse, whether that’s pain, fatigue, or both. Creating a flare ‘toolkit’ can help you prepare – keep all those things that help you manage your condition in one place. Then when you’re struggling, you know exactly where to go to find something to help.
If you live with axial SpA, there’s lots you can do to help manage your symptoms alongside guidance from your healthcare professionals. It can feel overwhelming to begin with and it can be difficult to know where to start. NASS have now launched Your SpAce – a free online programme for people at the beginning of their axial SpA journey, or those looking for a little extra support.
Your SpAce allows you to learn more about axial SpA, in your own time and at your own pace. With monthly online meetups, you can meet other people with the condition to share experiences and advice. Learn more about Your SpAce here.