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Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing Spondylitis is a type of inflammatory arthritis that usually worsens over time and is managable but not curable.

Common Signs & Symptoms

  • A gradual onset of stiffness and pain in the back and buttocks
  • Pain may start on one side or alternate sides and eventually felt of both sides becoming more persistent (chronic)
  • Three times more common in men than women, especially between 20 and 40 years old, rare to start in old age
  • A family history of Systemic Arthritis
  • Pain is usually dull and vague
  • Usually worse at the beginning of the day and at night
  • Improves with heat (eg shower/ hot water bottle) and gentle exercise
  • You may have mild fever, a loss of appetite, tiredness (fatigue) and nausea
  • Long term sufferers may have a stooped posture with severe stiffness of the spine lack of flexibility
  • Pain in the heel tendon, shoulder blades, hips, thighs and ribs
  • Inflammation of the eye or bowel

Description

Ankylosing Spondylitis is a type of inflammatory arthritis that usually worsens over time and is managable but not curable. Problems usually begin with gradual stiffness and pain in the lower back and pelvis, which spreads, with time, to other spinal joints, but occasionally the pain may start in another joint, such as the neck, heel or in the joint between your breast and collar bone (sternoclavicular joint). The inflammation in your affected joints leads to changes in the surrounding soft tissues causing the ligaments to harden fusing the joints in your spine (bamboo spine). This makes it becomes increasing difficult to move your spine leading to the characteristic stooping posture of long term sufferers.


It is not know what causes AS but there is a link with the HLA- B27 gene which may be inherited from your family. The condition can be severe, with one in ten people suffering long term disability. Although there is no direct test to diagnose Ankylosing Spondylitis, a combination of your history, blood tests and x-ray/MRIs of the spine will generally show characteristic changes and lead to diagnosis.

Advice & Treatment

You should see your doctor for an assesment, which may result in medication to to reduce inflammation and referral to a rheumatologist. Treatment consists of specific physiotherapy exercises to maintain the mobility of your joints and reduce pain & stiffness. The aims are to keep your joints, your spine more specifically, as mobile and flexible as possible, and to limit the extent of any deformity.Your exercises will need to be done regularly.

You can use heat to reduce pain and tightness in muscles and cold to reduce pain from inflamed joints. Massage will help ease pain by reducing muscle tightness and improving your circulation.

Maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking, eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water and regular exercise to improve the symptoms. Taking up an activity which involves twisting and deep breathing, such as golf, yoga or swimming will help to keep your spine mobile.

For more support and information contact the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society http://nass.co.uk/

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