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Finding new ways to manage Ankylosing Spondylitis during Covid-19

Managing Ankylosing Spondylitis during Covid-19

Roger Stevens

The Coronavirus outbreak has provided many challenges and problems across society, not least the difficulty of keeping mobile if you suffer from chronic inflammatory arthritic conditions like Ankylosing Spondylitis or Axial Spondyloarthritis (AS).

Part of the management of these conditions relies on the patient keeping mobile to prevent the person stiffening up irreparably; it's a case of use it or lose it!

Apart from doing their own exercises at home, swimming etc, many AS patients also take part in their local NASS (National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society) branch exercise sessions. Portsmouth is the largest such branch in the country with four sub-groups meeting at Queen Alexandra Hospital every week. The 56 members attend exercise evenings run by NHS physiotherapists from Solent NHS and Portsmouth Hospitals Trusts.

AS is a debilitating form of inflammatory arthritis that affects around 200,000 people nationwide. NASS Portsmouth part of the national NASS network and is self-funded. The branch organises hydrotherapy and physiotherapy for anyone who has a clinical diagnosis of AS; these activities are normally held in the evening to take pressure off hospital day-time services.

But what do AS patients do when they cannot use their local swimming pools or gyms and their NASS branch have been suspended due to Covid-19?

Part of the answer has come in the form of on-line exercises sessions run using the Zoom IT system and led by NHS physios who usually run the weekly NASS evenings at QAH. As Portsmouth chairman, I am also part of the Solent Academy for Research and Improvement Side-by-Side network, and after taking part in some of their Zoom sessions, I had the enthusiasm to try to develop online exercise sessions with Solent staff. The key players were obviously the physiotherapists - without them it could not happen.

Claire Jeffries and Marion Gower from Solent have been magnificent, and have done all the hard work in setting this up. The branch now owns a pro-Zoom account to allow for extended session if necessary, and the first two Zoom exercise sessions have been a resounding success with 26 members and several family supporters joining in too.

The feedback has been wonderful with people saying how much it meant to them to see their NASS friends again, but especially to exercise under the guidance of the physiotherapists So, despite Covid-19, thanks to Zoom and staff from Solent NHS Trust, NASS Portsmouth members have found a way to keep going and keeping mobile!