What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of chronic (long-term) arthritis that affects parts of the spine, including bones, muscles and ligaments.
Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation of the joints and tissues around them.
The symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis can vary, but most people experience back pain and stiffness. The condition can be severe, with around one in 10 people at risk of long-term disability.
What causes ankylosing spondylitis?
In ankylosing spondylitis, the spinal joints, ligaments and the sacroiliac joints (the joints at the base of the spine) become inflamed. This inflammation causes pain and stiffness in the neck and back. Sacroiliitis (inflammation of the sacroiliac joints) leads to pain in the lower back and buttocks.
It is not known what causes the condition, but there is thought to be a link with a particular gene known as HLA-B27.
Treating ankylosing spondylitis
There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis. The aim of treatment is to ease the pain and stiffness and to keep the spine flexible. Treatment includes:
- physiotherapy – where physical methods, such as massage and manipulation, are used to improve comfort and spinal flexibility (only the muscles and soft tissue should be manipulated and never the bones of the spine – manipulating bones in people with ankylosing spondylitis can cause injury)
- medication – helps relieve pain and control symptoms
- injections – helps to reduce the inflammation of the soft tissues
In advanced cases of ankylosing spondylitis, the pain and stiffness can lead to your posture becoming fixed in one position.
Who is affected?
Ankylosing spondylitis can develop at any time from teenage years onwards, although it usually occurs between 15 and 35 years of age and rarely starts in old age. It is around three times more common in men than in women.