Saving Private Spine

AS is a stealthy disease, an invisible enemy attacking you in different ways and at different times. One day you are fine and the next you need assistance to walk. Since I've contracted AS, it feels like I’ve been drafted in a war that I don’t want to fight. I walk the fields of life looking over my shoulder wondering when my enemy will strike at me. I know I need to defend myself and not show that I am afraid or hurting because my enemy senses my vulnerabilities. How can I protect myself if I cannot see where the sniper dot on my chest is coming from? If anticipating an attack is impossible, then preparing for the unknown seems like a good defensive strategy.  My plan is to diminish the intensity and duration of each attack, thus evacuating the inflammation from its location. Medication is part of my strategy; like infrared goggles — you need them to fight in the dark, but medication won't do everything. Without weapons you can't fire back at your enemy. Exercise allows you to magnify your arsenal by slowing down the invasion of Ankylosis in your spine. Once it has invaded, there is no way of regaining that territory back. So what are you going to do? Go to war or go home? If territory is already lost do not give up hope, but you do need to reformulate your plan of attack.

Not all the soldiers fighting in this war are at the same level of physical restriction. We can form three main platoon units: Inflammatory, Partial Mobility and Total Immobilization. Each unit has specific tasks to complete in the fight against AS.

Inflammatory, the first platoon unit, needs to work on keeping the spine as mobile as possible while strengthening the surrounding muscles. No ankylosing invasion is yet present but the need to keep moving is essential in keeping the inflammation out of the area. Postural work is crucial to ensure normal vertebral curvature and preventing kyphosis of the spine.

The second unit, Partial Mobility, has fusion in their sacroiliac joint and back but can still work on maintaining the mobility of the vertebrae above and below the fused areas. They have specific spinal restrictions but must focus on mobility and function of the unfused segments to prevent injury to the fused segments.

The last platoon unit, Total Immobilization, has the hardest job of all the platoons. Their total lack of mobility makes it hard for them to move. Working on keeping their legs strong will allow them to retain functional capacity and reduce the risk of falling and fracturing their spines. Active living and exercise will lubricate and prevent degeneration of joints in the hip, knee and feet. A fused cervical spine makes it difficult to manage everyday tasks such as lifting the arms overhead. Scapular gliding exercises and posterior chain reinforcement will allow the scapula to glide properly through an efficient range of motion and facilitate some of these tasks. 

In this article, I've used military analogies to explain some active strategies that you can use to resist against the invasion of AS in your body, but in reality we are really at war. It might temporarily help to let out some frustration by complaining about what you've lost or the pain you are going through, but it does not solve the issue at hand. The truth of the matter is you are your own commander in this fight and need to take action on what you CAN do as opposed to what you CAN'T.  There is a solution to every level of physical restriction. I'm fighting my own battles as well and focus on my research in training to keep me moving forward. There will always be hope if you believe in your heart that you are marching towards a winning cause. I'm not ready, nor will I ever be, to lay down my weapon and wave the white flag in surrender. I hope that we can join forces in this war and feed off one another's day to day successes, in order to move forward —together.

Over and out.

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