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Professional therapeutic massage therapy in Kansas City, MO by Aaron Harris, BCTMB

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Massage for Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS)


Clients suffering from Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) can receive supportive relief of symptoms when working with a professional massage therapist.

What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing Spondylitis
Diagram showing the fusion of vertebral joints in ankylosing spondylitis. Courtesy of Indiana Polyclinic.

AS is a progressive inflammatory form of arthritis that affects the spine. This condition leads to increasing stiffness that often results in the fusion of the vertebrae. This condition is sometimes called rheumatoid spondylitis.

It is an inherited disorder that most often affects men between 15 and 35 years old. The disorder affects about 1% of the US population, with males outnumbering females by about 3 to 1.

Ankylosing Spondylitis typically affects the lower back beginning with chronic inflammation of the sacroiliac joint. This chronic inflammation causes the cartilage to begin to break down and become replaced with bone tissue.

The condition then begins to spread up along the spine leaving the patient with the upper thoracic and cervical vertebrae stuck in a constantly flexed position.

Postural changes from ankylosing spondylitis
Classic posture changes in patients with ankylosing spondylitis.

Signs and Symptoms

AS typically starts as chronic low back pain that is often misdiagnosed as a herniated disc. Patients complain of hip stiffness that is especially worse in the morning or after long periods of sitting. Stiffness gradually spreads higher up the spine, occasionally leading to difficulty breathing.

This condition carries a high risk of vertebral fracture, as the spine loses mobility and becomes susceptible to shearing forces, like those that can occur during a car accident.

Nerve damage can be a complication. As new bone tissue replaces damaged cartilage, pressure can be applied to the nerves that branch from the low back. This nerve pressure can lead to loss of bowel and bladder control.


It is important to receive a definitive diagnosis from a physician. Blood tests and x-rays will be used to confirm the diagnosis.


Physical therapy and massage is a first line of defense in treating Ankylosing Spondylitis. Stretching exercises and chiropractic visits can improve flexibility and mobility between vertebrae. Occasionally, surgical intervention is necessary to remove bony tissue that impinges on nerves and fuse vertebrae into proper alignment.

Can Massage Help Ankylosing Spondylitis?

In the early stages of the disease, massage therapy can help maintain flexibility of the sacroiliac joint and provide tender point pain relief. As the disease progresses, massage should be performed in addition to care by your physician or orthopedist.

Deep tissue massage is generally not tolerated by clients with AS. Zen Shiatsu can be quite supportive when working within limits to range of motion.

As with any other condition, a massage therapist should always work within your pain tolerance. There is no benefit to feeling more injured after a mobile massage session than before!

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