Ankylosing spondylitis – Understand the risk factors, symptoms, and remedies

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that primarily affects the spine and causes the vertebrae and surrounding tissue to fuse. The unnatural fusing results in inflammation and causes sharp bouts of pain. This happens due to the formation of new bones in the existing vertebrae sections. In severe cases, spondylitis can cause the spine to hunch forward as the vertebrae pulls inwards and merges at the tissue that separates each joint.

The following points highlight the major risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options (for pain management) for ankylosing spondylitis.

Known risk factors

There are no direct causes of the condition. Many research papers state a certain genetic influence may trigger an autoimmune response from the body that results in spondylitis. Men are more at risk of developing the condition in comparison to women. Generally, the first signs of discomfort can be seen between the ages of 30 and 45. However, some spondylitis symptoms may develop as early as the age of 17, affecting young teens and can gradually lead to the worsening of the pain and stiffness with increasing age.

Note that the symptoms will vary depending on the severity of the condition. Certain health conditions, including psoriasis, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease, also increase the likelihood of spine deterioration.

Symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis

The first symptoms of the condition are more noticeable in the lower back region, where the spine connects with the pelvis. This results in pain and stiffness in the lower spine, buttocks, thighs, feet, and heels. If the condition is more severe, the pain could radiate upwards to the rib cage, hands, and shoulders.

Noticeable flare-ups due to the deteriorating bone health include:

  • Swelling of joints that may feel warm and tender to touch
  • Stiffness of vital joints caused due to persistent flare-ups
  • Pain in joints that majorly affects mobility
  • Fatigue due to persistent pain and inflammation
  • Changes in the digestive tract resulting in abdominal pain or even diarrhea
  • Physical discomforts can also result in emotional trauma

Other complications due to the condition can also affect the spine, eyes, and even the heart. Discomforts include:

  • Weak vertebrae link resulting in a compromised spinal cord structure that is more susceptible to fractures
  • Pinching and irritation of vital nerve structures at the bottom of the spinal cord due to a weak structure
  • Loss of vital reflexes that regulate bladders and bowels or can also trigger a sexual problem
  • A small percentage of people may experience vision problems caused due to inflammation that result in blurred vision and increase their sensitivity towards a bright light
  • One of the rarer symptoms of spondylitis can affect the aorta, the largest valve in the heart that causes blood to leak back into the organ during natural pumping function

Treatment options

There is no known cure for this progressive disorder. At best, the pain and symptoms can be managed with medications and physical therapy. Surgery is only reserved for extremely severe cases where the condition has progressed rapidly. There are a few preventive measures including maintaining a healthy weight, following a nutritious diet, refraining from alcohol, and keeping the body active that further helps manage the pain.

  • Medications
    Doctors may recommend biologics and anti-inflammatory medications for pain and inflammation. However, there are several side effects of prolonged medications.
  • Natural remedies
    Home exercises like stretching and basic movements can help improve one’s flexibility to ease the discomfort further. One can also explore posture correction exercises for the spine. Proper posture helps keep the spine erect and the vertebrae equally spaced. Note that all these exercises must be done only after consulting a physical therapist to understand proper form. Getting a massage helps relieve the pain and stress on the body. Alternatively, one can also practice a few simple yoga poses.

At any point, if the pain is unbearable or the flare-ups are more persistent in nature, immediate medical attention is advisable. The symptoms and discomforts of spondylitis should not be taken lightly.