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Neck Exercises for Spondylitis

By Steve Silverman

Spondylarthritis is the name for a group of inflammatory rheumatic diseases that cause arthritis. The most common, ankylosing spondylitis, usually affects the spine. It causes inflammation and swelling in the joints of the spine, leading to pain and stiffness.The tissue connecting the bones of the spine is also involved and hardens over time, making movement difficult. Young men are most likely to develop ankylosing spondylitis, although women also develop the condition.

Spondylitis in the Neck

The most common site of problem for people with ankylosing spondylitis is the sacroiliac joints, which are on the back side of the hip bones, connecting them to the bottom part of the spine. The combination of the bone damage and connecting tissue hardening decreases spine flexibility. It usually travels up the spine.

Paul M. Peloso, MD, for the Spondylitis Association of America, notes that while the most common site is the sacroiliac joints, spondylitis does not always start there. Spondylitis that begins in the neck could delay diagnosis. If started in the low back, neck involvement is common 15 or 20 years after. Degeneration at diagnosis differs, which can alter exercise recommendations.

Types of Neck Exercises for Spondylitis

After being diagnosed by a physician, you should be connected with a physiotherapist. Your physician will be able to communicate with your physiotherapist about how far spondylitis has progressed. For some, the exercises prescribed will be a preventative measure. If flexibility has already decreased, your physiotherapist may alter their advice.

The motions usually lost are side-to-side and front-to-back, so exercises to keep those motions intact are likely. Stiffness usually is worst in the morning, so general activity to start the day may be prescribed to decrease it. Strength exercises for supporting muscles may be added to take pressure off the spine. For those with increasing pain or stiffness, exercising in water may be more comfortable.

Limitations & Precautions

There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, so it is very important for those with spondylitis to make their long-term exercise plan a priority. Once the connecting tissue is hardened, it cannot be undone.

It is also important that you monitor the disease with your physician team and physiotherapist, as changes in your disease may alter your exercise prescriptions. For example, if your sacroiliac joints have completely hardened, you may just do gentle walking instead of stretching for that area. Your recommendations are based on the communication between your physician and physiotherapist, so make sure your physiotherapist understands spondylitis and the progression of your condition.


While ankylosing spondylitis is mainly a condition of the spine, there are often accompanying effects on the body that can have serious complications. Tendons throughout the body may become hardened. Portions of the eye may become inflamed. Heart disease and inflammation of the colon is possible. Lung disease and problems breathing have also been associated with ankylosing spondylitis. Because many areas of the body may be affected, you will likely have several physicians who coordinate your care, even if as a preventative measure.

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