Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is an inflammatory condition that affects joints of the spine. It tends to start manifesting itself around the hip/pelvis region, where sacroiliac joints that join the sacrum and ilium bones, and can spread to upwards to other spinal joints, or in more severe cases affect other parts of the body as well.
It is a condition that is part of a type of arthritis called axial spondyloarthritis.
How is it diagnosed?
Obtaining a diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis can be a difficult process, especially if it is in the early stages, as there may be no present symptoms yet.
However, it is typically diagnosed through a combination of physical exams, blood tests and imaging tests.
Physical exams and imaging tests are used to check for signs of inflammation in the spine. Blood tests are used to detect or rule out whether the person is carrying a specific gene, called the HLA-B27 gene, which is usually present in people with ankylosing spondylitis.
A single test for ankylosing spondylitis may not be sufficient to confirm the presence of the disease, and as such it can be a rather lengthy process to diagnose ankylosing spondylitis.
Causes and Risk Factors
There is no established cause for AS, but a correlation has been made between the presence of a gene called HLA-B27 in people who suffer from this disease.
Apart from genetic inheritance there are certain risk factors associated with developing AS:
- Men are more likely than women to develop this condition.
- Ankylosing spondylitis tends to develop rather early, compared to other spinal problems. It tends to first appear during teenage years or early adulthood.
People who suffer from AS may not experience any noticeable symptoms at first, but once the condition progresses certain symptoms may be present. These include:
- Pain and stiffness starting from the hip and lower back regions. Back pain in people who suffer from AS tends to be present at all times and does not improve with rest. As such it may also cause sleep disturbances. It tends to be worse when the person wake up, as well as after long periods of inactivity.
- Tenderness of the spinal joints and bones (including the ribs), which sometimes makes breathing difficult due to the chest expansion that takes place while breathing in.
- Tenderness in other parts of the body, such as the feet, hips, or buttocks, which makes it painful to walk around on hard surfaces or even to sit down.
- Swelling in the legs, knees, or feet.
- Gradual reduction in the range of motion of the spine, as spinal segments tend to fuse together when the disease progresses.
- Hunched over posture due to the vertebrae fusing together.
Although there is no cure for this disease, there are various treatment methods that can be employed to manage the symptoms that it causes. These include:
- Anti-inflammatory pain medication.
- Medication for arthritis, more commonly known as DMARDS (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs), such as methotrexate and sulfasalazine.
- Steroid injections to manage inflammation and temporary flare-ups of AS.
- Getting a massage to relax the muscles of your spine.
- Physical therapy to maintain spinal mobility.
- Engaging in a physical exercise programme designed for people with AS.
The latter two are especially advised, as AS tends to respond rather positively to movement.
Additionally, to relieve hip, back, neck and shoulder pain you can also use a special orthopaedic device that uses patented technology to decompress and relax your spine. It is called the Spinal Backrack.