What is ankylosing spondylitis?
Anylosing spondylitis (AS) is an inflammatory condition affecting the joints of your spine. Your body reacts to this inflammation by depositing calcium where ligaments attach to the vertebrae of the spine. This causes a stiffening of the spine and may eventually lead to fusion of some of the spinal bones.
AS usually affects the lower spine where it meets with your pelvis, although it can affect other parts of the spine. AS can also cause problems with tendons, other joints in your body, and the eyes.
How is ankylosing spondylitis treated?
Management of AS is based on treating the underlying inflammatory process of the disease, and preventing further damage to your spine. In addition, treatment aims to relieve the symptoms of AS, such as pain.
A group of drugs called DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) are used to reduce your immune system’s attack on the spine, reducing long term damage and easing symptoms. The more commonly used DMARDs include methotrexate or sulfasalazine.
In cases which are difficult to control, a newer group of drugs called biologics may be considered. Biologics target particular parts of the immune system to prevent damage to the spine. Examples are etanercept and adalimumab.
For symptom control, analgesics (pain killers) may be used such as paracetamol or codeine. Anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are also useful to reduce joint swelling, for example, ibuprofen, diclofenac or naproxen. Steroids, such as prednisolone or depo-medrone, may also be used as a “rescue” in severe flares of AS.
Physiotherapy is also a very important part of treating AS, in order to maintain muscle strength and spinal mobility. A physiotherapist can advise you on exercises to keen your back moving, and may also recommend hydrotherapy treatment (exercises which take place in a warm water pool).
Where can I find out more about ankylosing spondylitis?
Arthritis Research UK
- Anylosing spondylitis information – including symptoms of AS, treatments, new research and self-help information
- Exercises to manage pain – including general information about relieving joint pains, and a self-help guide for people living with long term pain
National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society