What is it?
Ankylosing Spondylitis, or AS, is a type of arthritis that primarily affects the spine but can spread to other joints. It is an inflammatory disease that can cause some of the vertebrae in the spine to fuse together, making the spine significantly less flexible and possibly resulting in a hunched posture. Parts of the body that can be affected by AS include the shoulders, hips, ribs, heels, and joints in both the hands and feet. This condition can be present with pain, stiffness, and inflammation in all aforementioned body parts. If it affects the ribs, lung capacity can be restricted and breathing can become difficult.
Who is at risk?
Although Ankylosing Spondylitis can occur at any age, it typically begins in adolescents and young adults and continues to affect them throughout their lifetime. While there is no known specific cause of AS, genetic factors seem to be a contributing factor. Also, men are more likely to be affected by AS than women.
Signs you may have AS may include stiffness and pain in your lower back or hips, especially in the morning and after periods of inactivity. The onset of stiffness and pain is typically gradual and progressively worsens over months, often with a noticeable loss of range of motion. Fatigue is common among those affected by active inflammation, another early sign of AS. Motion, gradual stretching, heat, laser, other modalities and a warm shower in the morning often help reduce pain and stiffness.
At present, there is no known cure for Ankylosing Spondylitis. Treatment options typically include medications (NSAIDs, Corticosteroids, DMARDs, Biologic agents), physical therapy, exercise, and in extreme cases, surgery. Never take medications without first consulting your physician; it is important to work with your doctor to find the safest and most effective treatment for you.
Regular exercise is very beneficial for AS and can help relieve pain, improve posture, and maintain flexibility. If you decide to start a new exercise program to help alleviate some of the pain, make sure you consult a physical therapist to design a program that is right for you. Physical therapy for AS usually includes exercises to maintain proper posture. This may entail stretching exercises to improve joint and spine mobility as well as deep breathing exercises to expand lung capacity.
Surgery is typically only administered in the most extreme cases, when joint damage is so severe that it makes it difficult to perform normal activities of daily living (ADLs), or your hip joint is so damaged it needs to be replaced.
When to see a doctor
You should seek medical attention if you have lower back or buttock pain that has increased gradually, and is worse in the morning or wakes you up in the middle of the night. A typical warning sign of ankylosing spondylitis is pain following periods of rest that is relieved by exercise or movement.