What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?
Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the joints and ligaments of the spine and can cause symptoms that spread to the rest of the body. It tends to start in the lumbar spine (lower back) and then spread to other areas of the spine. It is part of a group of arthritis-related diseases called axial spondyloarthritis (axspa).
Some people with axial spondyloarthritis may have other types of arthritis-based conditions such as psoriatic arthritis or peripheral arthritis, which also fall under the category of axspa. However, this article will focus solely on AS and not other types of inflammatory arthritis.
While the condition cannot be completely cured, there are several ways to manage the symptoms that are present.
What are the early signs and symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis symptoms?
People with ankylosing spondylitis tend to experience their first symptoms when they are teenagers or young adults, and one of the first signs is back pain and inflammation in the lower back. The sacroiliac joints are also often affected, leadign to sacroiliitis. Spine stiffness and pain, as well as reduced range of motion may follow, as the inflammation persists, as well as overall fatigue.
In time, as the inflammation worsens, the joints and ligaments of the back may become damaged, and fusing of spinal bones called verterbae may occur as well, resulting in severe stiffness and loss of flexibility in the spine. This can lead to ankylosis, which can cause an unnatural arching of the spine as seen in kyphosis sufferers. This is due to the stiffening of the spine.
In time, other parts of the body may be affected by inflammation and pain, such as the neck, jaw, hips, and legs. Other symptoms such as skin problems, difficulty breathing, and digestive issues, which most often lead to bowel symptoms, may also arise.
When it comes to the pain affecting the spine, it can be improved through exercise, while resting has no benefit in improving it, which is a way to distinguish regular low back pain from AS-related pain.
There isn’t a known specific cause for this condition, but many pieces of research suggest that genetic components may play an important role in triggering AS.
Outlook, Diagnosis and Treatment
Ankylosing Spondylitis tends to get worse with age, and while it cannot be cured, there are various ways to manage the symptoms, especially the pain across the spine.
To determine whether the symptoms you experience are due to AS, it is best to seek a diagnosis from a specialised medical professional, and undergo required imaging tests that showcase the condition of your bones.
If a diagnosis has been confirmed, you may proceed to the treatment phase.
Some of the most common ways to manage pain in people with AS include:
- Physiotherapy, which can help restore some of the mobility in the spine.
- Anti-inflammatory pain medication, such as NSAIDs or corticosteroids, to reduce inflammation, pain and stiffness sensations temporarily.
- Muscle relaxants to release tense muscles.
- Various types of spinal surgery may also be considered as an option in severe cases.
- Exercising and improving posture.
As it may be difficult to exercise with this condition, it is possible to get good results even from exercising from a comfortable environment, such as one’s home. To achieve this, you can use a special device such as the Backrack, which allows for a reduction in pain, while exercising in a lying down position that requires minimum effort.