Focus on Ankylosing Spondylitis

What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a type of inflammatory autoimmune arthritis that primarily affects the spine.

It is characterised by:

  • Intermittent pain and progressive stiffness due to the inflammation
  • Eventual hardening of the ligaments that surround the spine

Symptoms include:

  • Pain and stiffness of the sacroiliac joints; the large joints that connect the pelvic bones to the sacrum
  • During the final stages of the disease, all of the vertebrae can become fused and rigid, often in a flexed, forward posture.

AS causes an inflammatory response which affects many other systems and joints. Therefore, a significant number of people who suffer from AS also suffer from various other diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammation of the eye.

What causes it?

There is no clear cause of AS, however factors such as genetics, chronic stress and frequent gastrointestinal infections are among the predisposing factors. Men are more likely to develop AS when compared to women, and symptoms usually begin between the ages of 17 and 45 years.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The two most common symptoms are intermittent back pain and progressive stiffness. The condition may affect other tendons and ligaments, such as those in the hands, feet and ribs. Often symptoms flare up following periods of rest, such as in the morning and regress following periods of activity.

Each individual case is different; some people may experience mild discomfort that is localised in the spine, whereas others may feel severe and debilitating symptoms with little respite. Chronic symptoms include breathing difficulties as a result of thoracic and rib cage stiffness and severe spinal pain and immobility. Seeking medical treatment will assist with inflammation and slowing the disease process.

How can physiotherapy help?

A physiotherapist can assist with managing pain during flare-ups and maintain optimal posture as the disease progresses; they will measure spinal movement, strength and posture. Depending on the individual case, they can prescribe exercises to maintain mobility and strength in other affected areas such as hands, feet, hips or shoulders. Evidence based research has shown many positive benefits for those suffering from AS, such as improved rib cage expansion when breathing and improved posture of the upper back and neck.

None of the information in this newsletter is a replacement for proper medical advice. Always

seek a medical professional for advice on your condition.

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