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Can Meditation Help with Ankylosing Spondylitis?

How meditation can help people cope with the physical and mental demands of living with inflammatory arthritis.

Can Meditation Help with Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Meditation is perhaps best defined by what the practice aims to achieve—a deeper connection and understanding of the mind and body. There are many different types of meditation, some of which have been practiced for thousands of years.

In previous centuries, meditation was viewed as a way of deepening one’s understanding of the self and the world. In modern times, many people are drawn to meditation because of the ways it can benefit physical and mental health. This includes many people living with chronic conditions, such as ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a type of inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the spinal column—but can also cause other symptoms, including fatigue and pain in other joints throughout the body.

Living with AS is emotionally and mentally demanding. There is no cure for the condition and treatment is a lifelong process that often involves physical therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes. Even when symptoms are in remission, many people may find that they are stressed over the uncertainty of how symptoms will progress, or they may feel overwhelmed by the constant demand of keeping up with treatment.

If you have AS, it’s essential to work with a healthcare provider to identify and address the ways that AS impacts your life. Here, we look at some of the reasons you may consider adding meditation to your AS management plan.

Meditation and AS
While there is little research that specifically focuses on meditation and the potential benefit for people with ankylosing spondylitis, there have been a number of studies that have looked at the benefits of meditation for people living with chronic inflammatory diseases and people who are living with chronic pain. Research has found that meditation can help reduce stress (a potential trigger for inflammation) and may help regulate immune system activity. Research has also found that meditation can improve symptoms, lessen pain perception, and improve quality of life in people who are experiencing chronic pain.

Is there a downside to meditation?
Another argument for trying meditation—there is little risk involved in giving it a try. Some people report experiencing unwanted negative emotions when practicing meditation, but in general the practice is considered safe for most people. If you have concerns about meditation, you may want to hold off on trying it until you’ve had a chance to talk to your healthcare provider.

Starting meditation
While some meditative practices—such as yoga and tai chi—are best started under the guidance of a qualified instructor, there are many types of meditation, and many can be practiced on your own. One type of meditation that you might consider is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is based on a meditation program called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) which has been well-studied among people with various health conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, depression, chronic pain, cancer, and many others.

Remember that meditation is not a substitute for treatment. If you are living with AS, it is essential that you work with a healthcare provider—typically a rheumatologist—who has experience in treating inflammatory arthritis.

Medically reviewed in July 2021.

Sources:

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. "Meditation: In Depth."
Hari Sharma. "Meditation: Process and effects." Ayu: An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayuveda, 2015. Vol. 36, No. 3.
Global Healthy Living Foundation. "Raising the Voice of Patients: A Patient's Guide to Living with Ankylosing Spondylitis." First Edition, 2017.
UpToDate. "Patient education: Axial spondyloarthritis, including ankylosing spondylitis (Beyond the Basics)."
Cleveland Clinic. "Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS)."
Alexander Martin, Ratnesh Chopra, and Perry M. Nicassio. "Nonpharmacologic Pain Management in Inflammatory Arthritis." Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America, 2021. Vol. 45, No. 2.
Mayo Clinic. "Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress."

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