What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?
Ankylosing spondylitis is a systemic disease that causes inflammation of the joints of the human body. Like rheumatoid arthritis, this condition affected multiple joints in the body due to a systemic disease. But the two diseases differ in the types of patient populations affected and the age of onset of symptoms. Rheumatoid arthritis is more likely to affect women vs. men, and it may even show up for the first time in children.



Ankylosing spondylitis affects men twice as often as women and usually begins in the late twenties. This disease often affects weight bearing joints such as the knee and hip joints. Ankylosing spondylitis also causes severe inflammation of the spinal joints. Though joints at all levels of the spine may be affected, symptoms usually first develop at the sacroiliac joints and then those of the lumbar vertebrae. Eventually, the disease may work its way up the vertebral column to affect many of the spinal joints. Eventually the cartilage in the joints may wear away completely, and the vertebral bones may fuse together. When this fusion of the spinal bones take place in the upper thoracic and cervical spine, the result may be severe kyphosis, where a person is locked in a hunched over position. If several of the vertebral bones become fused together, the spine may begin to take on the shape of a bamboo rod. The bamboo-like appearance of the fused segments of the spine is sometimes referred to as "bamboo spine" for this reason.

Like rheumatoid arthritis, the cause of the disease is unknown, though it does appear to have a genetic component to it, as it does run in families. The progression of this disease varies, from a steady worsening of symptoms to long periods of remission between outbreaks of symptoms.

Treatments for this disease are focused on slowing or stopping its progression. NSAIDs drugs may be prescribed for pain relief or to control inflammation of the joints. Certain exercises may help to keep the joints loose and from fusing. Patients may be trained to maintain a healthy posture to prevent extreme curvatures of the back from occurring. In a minority of the cases where a person is in severe pain, a spinal fusion may be performed. Though the disease is painful and has no known cure, it can be managed well with a combination of treatments to control inflammation and stiffness.

If conservative treatments do not provide you with enough relief, alternative treatments may benefit you. Some popular alternative treatments for ankylosing spondylits include glucosamine and chondroitin. Glucosamine and chondroitin are though to slow or reverse the progression by helping to re-lubricate the cartilage in joints, or build new cartilage that has deteriorated, as a result of inflammation.

Exercise and physical therapy. As the vertebral bones and discs begin to fuse together, and the person with the condition may find themselves in a hunched forward position eventually. The person with the humped back may even have a difficult time raising their head to look up at you. Exercise and strength training for the back may help to slow the development of a crooked posture, increasing the strength of the muscles that try to maintain a healthy position of the spine.