Effects of Pilates, McKenzie and Heckscher training on disease activity, spinal motility and pulmonary function in patients with ankylosing spondylitis

The ideal management of ankylosis spondylitis (AS) involves a combination of nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic treatment aiming to maximize health-related quality of life. The primary objective of this study was to demonstrate the benefits of an original multimodal exercise program combining Pilates, McKenzie and Heckscher techniques on pulmonary function in patients with AS, while secondary objectives were to demonstrate the benefits of the same program on function and disease activity. This is a randomized controlled study on ninety-six consecutive patients with AS (axial disease subset), assigned on a 1:1 rationale into two groups based on their participation in the Pilates, McKenzie and Heckscher (group I) or in the classical kinetic program (group II). The exercise program consisted of 50-min sessions performed 3 times a week for 48 weeks. Standard assessments were done at week 0 and 48 and included pain, modified Schober test (mST) and finger-floor distance (FFD), chest expansion (CE) and vital capacity (VC), as well as disease activity Bath Ankylosing Spondylitis Disease Activity Index (BASDAI), functional Bath Ankylosing Spondylitis Functional Index (BASFI) and metrology index Bath Ankylosing Spondylitis Metrology Index (BASMI). Groups were comparable at baseline; significant improvement was shown between baseline and after 48 weeks of regular kinetic training for all AS-related parameters in both groups. However, significant improvement was found in pain, lumbar spine motility (mST, FFD), BASFI, BASDAI and BASMI in AS performing the specific multimodal exercise program at the end of study (p = 0.001). Although there were significant improvements in CE in both groups as compared to baseline (group I, p = 0.001; group II, p = 0.002), this parameter increased significantly only in group I (p = 0.001). VC measurements were not significantly changed at the end of the study (group I, p = 0.127; group II, p = 0.997), but significant differences within groups were found (p = 0.011).

A multimodal training combining Pilates, McKenzie and Heckscher exercises performed regularly should be included in the routine management of patients with AS for better control of function, disease activity and pulmonary function.