The physiotherapy team at Eastbourne DGH runs a support service for local people with ankylosing spondylitis. The condition affects over 200,000 people in the UK, which means that some 250 people in Eastbourne may have the condition.
A key part of the service is the provision of a specialist exercise programme, developed by the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society.
DGH Physiotherapist Karen Kenyon said: “Our service focusses on helping patients to help themselves. We tell patients that, alongside their medication, exercise is the single most important thing they can do to help themselves as the fitter and more flexible they are, the better they can deal with stiffness and pain.
“But lots of patients are unsure of what they can do and are scared exercise might make things worse, so we have developed a bespoke exercise programme for people with ankylosing spondylitis. The exercises can be done at home without any need for specialist equipment.
“For those who need extra motivation, we offer two weekly self-help exercise groups at the hospital – one in the gym and the other in the hydrotherapy pool. The groups are run by a physiotherapist with a special interest in ankylosing spondylitis so patients can discuss any problems at the same time. The classes are also an opportunity to socialise with others who have the same condition.”
Ankylosing spondylitis patient Jeff King, a 44-year-old bus driver from Eastbourne, was diagnosed in 2011. He has been attending the gym class every week for the last five years.
He said: “I’ve had problems with my joints since I was a teenager, particularly in my back and my hands, so it was a relief to find out the cause and to learn how to manage the symptoms. As well as taking medication, I make sure that I exercise regularly as I find that I am much worse if I don’t. Even if it’s difficult I swim or go to the gym every day – you can’t let the condition get on top of you.
“The ankylosing spondylitis team at the DGH is fantastic. If I have a flare up or need some advice, they are always available. The National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society (NASS) offers great support too; for example they have helped me to liaise with my employers when I’ve been unable to work.”
Patients initially access the ankylosing spondylitis service with a referral from their GP to Sussex MSK Partnership East. Some patients may need to see a rheumatologist first. Once a patient has been assessed by the physiotherapy department they can refer themselves directly to the service at any time for further exercise advice, symptom management or a physical review.
To find out more about the ankylosing spondylitis service at the DGH, please visit www.nass.co.uk/eastbourne or contact Karen Kenyon on 01323 414 936
Key Facts about Ankylosing Spondylitis
• Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is an inflammatory condition of the spine which produces pain, stiffness, deformity and disability throughout adult life.
• It usually starts in the late teens and early twenties and can cause lifelong pain and stiffness. There is currently no cure for AS and diagnosis can be difficult, taking on average 8.5 years.
• The prevalence of AS is between 0.2 – 0.5% of the adult population. 200,000 people in the UK have AS. That represents twice the number of people in the UK who have Parkinson’s disease or Multiple Sclerosis.
• AS is a chronic progressive disease. It is characterised by periods of flare, leading to slowly increasing spinal and peripheral joint damage.
• AS leads to progressive spinal stiffness which may be accompanied by deformity. Up to 25% of people with AS eventually develop complete fusion of the spine which leads to substantial disability and restriction. Since many people with AS are neither deformed nor have peripheral joint abnormalities, much of the burden of living with AS is invisible.
• 50% of people with AS also suffer from associated disorders – in particular 40% experience eye inflammation (iritis), 16% develop psoriasis and 10% inflammatory bowel disease
Picture caption: Jeff King with physiotherapist Neil Pincombe at the DGH’s gym class for people with ankylosing spondylitis