Back pain app ‘an empowering tool’

(13/10/2014) An app for people with the chronic back pain condition, ankylosing spondylitis (AS), has been likened to having a ‘physio on your phone’.

AS is a type of inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the spine. It can lead to stiffness, tenderness and discomfort and symptoms typically start in the late teens and early 20s.

The condition can also cause pain or swelling in other parts of the body, such as the shoulders, hips, knees and small joints of the hands and feet.

According to Seoirse Smith, secretary of the Ankylosing Spondylitis Association of Ireland (ASAI), if diagnosed early, AS is ‘very manageable’ as long as good general health is maintained. This includes a good exercise regime. However, she acknowledged that whether you have AS or not, ‘it can be difficult to stay motivated to exercise and to know what the best exercises for you are’.

This is where the SUAS (Supporting and Understanding AS) app comes in. Originally launched as an iOS version last year, it has now become available for android users.

“The app can act as a ‘physio-on-your-phone’ to encourage AS patients to undertake regular exercises, as instructed by their physiotherapist, to help improve AS symptoms in the long-term. It can also benefit those living in areas of the country with limited access to fitness or health amenities,” the ASAI said.

Ms Smith pointed out that since its initial launch last October, it has been downloaded by iPhone users more than 1,000 times and it is hoped that by making it available to android users, many more people will avail of it.

“It is an empowering tool which should be available to all AS patients to assist them in better managing their condition. So far, it has provided people with AS with educational information, a library of instructional exercise videos, from beginner to advanced levels, and the ability to track and monitor the user’s progress over time,” she explained.

Commenting on the condition, Dr Claire Sheehy, a consultant rheumatologist at University Hospital Waterford, emphasised that early detection of the condition is vital.

“AS is associated with inflammation of joints in the spine which may cause the bones to fuse. This may be very painful. Early detection is vital, as if left untreated, it can lead to permanent stiffening of the spine. However with proper management and exercise, those with AS can live a normal lifestyle and continue doing the things they enjoy,” she noted.

She pointed out that regular mobility exercises are ‘an essential part of managing AS’ in order to reduce stiffness and pain.

“As a flexible, on-the-go tool, SUAS supports those with AS to manage key aspects of daily lifestyle, including managing symptoms, maintaining posture and working with AS,” she added.

People using the app have the option to complete simple surveys to establish their level of functionality and keep track of their ‘score’ over time as they exercise and improve their flexibility and strength.

They can also keep a record of this and discuss it with their doctor or physiotherapist.

The SUAS app is free to download from the Play and App Stores and an educational booklet is also available to download from the ASAI site here

The app was developed by the ASAI in partnership with University Hospital Waterford and is supported by Pfizer.


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