Sports for Teens with Spondylitis

Spondylitis patients can play sports and be active too

January 9, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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For many teens, sports are a big part of life. Just because you are a teen with ankylosing spondylitis or another form of spondylitis does not mean you have to sit on the sidelines.

If you are a teen with spondylitis, don't let back pain keep you from participating in sports. In fact, exercise is a key part of any spondylitis treatment program. In addition to working on good posture and taking your medications as prescribed, doing the right kind of exercises can help reduce the pain and boost flexibility.

The following article offers advice to teens with spondylitis who want to participate in sports. But remember to always talk with your doctor first before starting any new sport or physical activity.

What is spondylitis?

Spondylitis is the name used to describe a group of inflammatory diseases that mainly affect the spine but can also involve other joints and organs. Unlike other forms of arthritis, spondylitis often affects younger people.

The cause of spondylitis is unknown, but some research suggests that genes and infection may be involved.

While there is no cure for spondylitis, patients can do a lot to manage the disease. One important part of managing spondylitis is physical activity.

How is exercise good for my spondylitis?

Regular daily exercise can improve your posture, improve flexibility and maintain joint motion. If you become more flexible, your joints may work better. Many people report that exercise also helps relieve pain.

If you're feeling joint pain and stiffness, you may not feel like moving that joint. But if you remain inactive, you may run the risk of losing joint motion that can be hard to regain.

What sports can I do while living with spondylitis?

Some sports are easier on the spine than others. Tennis, racquetball or jogging can be jarring and increase spinal pain. Swimming, on the other hand, offers a little more spinal support. The water supports your spine and limbs and allows you to move with less effort. Other water activities include water polo and water aerobics.

Walking is another activity that spondylitis patients report being able to tolerate. It is important, however, to have good shoes that absorb the shock or impact while walking.

Cycling can also be good, but only if you take the right precautions. You should use a bike with upright handlebars that keep your back straight. Drop bars make your back bend forward and curve your spine. You should also be careful while climbing hills, as the extra effort might put more strain on your knees.

How do I know if I've done too much?

Pay attention to your symptoms. While pain and stiffness can change with your disease activity, exercise can also aggravate symptoms.

If your symptoms last for more than two hours after exercise or activity, then you may have done too much. And doing too much may mean you won't want to exercise again soon. Schedule your exercise time so that you can be as active as possible without overdoing it.

According to James Crowell, owner and head trainer of Integrated Fitness in Pittsburgh, "It is crucial to understand if your back is tired, sore, or injured. I always advise my athletes to pay attention to how they are feeling. Generally, if they tell me that it is just a little sore I will have them roll out and stretch out and get a really good warm up and reevaluate how they feel. If their back has loosened up, I'll let them get a 'scaled' workout, in which they drop their weights down and take out movements that could inflame their back. If they get better over the next few days, they are generally good to go."

"If they aren't getting better and it's nagging them, then I take them out of workouts completely and have them stretch/roll/see a chiropractor and see if they can calm it down by resting. If it works, then we are good. But if it nags, then they need to see a doctor and make sure that everything is ok."

Crowell also said he is a huge proponent of exercises to strengthen the back.

" I believe that movement is a good thing for most back pain," he said. "Not aggressive, high impact, or jarring movements, but movements that allow blood to move through the entire area and begin to heal it."

Talk with your doctor and physical therapist to figure out what amount of exercise is right for you.

What should I do if I'm feeling fatigued?

Fatigue is a common symptom among people with spondylitis. If you are feeling fatigued, the Spondylitis Association of America recommends remembering the 4 P's:

  • Prioritize: Do your most important activities first.
  • Pacing: Switch between periods of activity and rest.
  • Planning: Make a weekly schedule that sets a pace your can handle, devotes time to your priorities and leaves time for rest.
  • Posture: Correct posture allows you to carry weight across several sets of muscles, which in turn helps conserve energy.

You can also prevent fatigue by eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of sleep every night.

What should I do if I'm in pain?

First and foremost, keep an open dialog with your doctor. Tell your doctor if you are feeling more pain than usual.

Secondly, take your medications as prescribed. If your meds aren't working, see your doctor as soon as possible.

It's also important to rest, which doesn't necessarily mean sleep. Resting is relaxing. So make time to relax. But don't overdo it, as too much resting can lead to stiffness.

Stretch as often as you need. Stretching can help your joints, muscles and other tissues to stay flexible.