Ankylosing Spondylitis

A type of arthritis that causes inflammation of the vertebrae, the bones that comprise the spine, the sacroiliac joints between the spine and the pelvis, and sometimes other joints. Symptoms can range from mild episodes of back pain to chronic severe back pain and loss of flexibility in the spine. In severe cases, vertebrae may become calcified and fuse together.

There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis (AS), but treatment may relieve symptoms and possibly prevent its progression. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can be used to relieve pain and inflammation. When NSAIDs alone don’t control inflammation, corticosteroids can be injected into the sacroiliac, hip, or knee joint.

Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as sulfasalazine and methotrexate can be used to control the AS disease process. Biologic agents, genetically engineered medications that block the body’s inflammatory process, can also be used when other means fail to control inflammation. The biologics approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat AS include adalimumab, certolizumab, etanercept, golimumab, and infliximab.

Resistance training such as weight-lifting may help build muscles around painful joints to better support them. Range-of-motion exercises such as yoga and stretching can improve flexibility, and exercises that stretch and extend the back can help prevent long-term disability from AS. Many people with AS find it helpful to exercise in water. Before starting on an exercise program, speak with a health-care professional about specific exercises recommended for AS.

Want to learn more about ankylosing spondylitis? Read “Predictors of Ankylosing Spondyltis.”

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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