Ankylosing spondylitis comes from the Greek language meaning fused vertebrae inflammation. Just as its namesake suggests, it’s a chronic form of inflammation in the spine and sacroiliac joint. If the condition persists for a long period of time, it can lead to fusion of two or more vertebrae – a process known in the medical community as ankylosis. While there’s no cure for ankylosis, there are medications and techniques available to reduce the pain and inflammation it causes.
Some of the other names given to this condition include Bechterew’s disease, Bechterew’s syndrome and Marie-Strümpell disease. Symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis typically begin when the person is around 23 years of age, at which point he or she may notice pain, stiffness and swelling in the middle of the spine – either in one particular area or throughout the entire spine. These symptoms begin mild but gradually become more intense as the condition progresses.
Doctors note that the average “lag time” between the onset of ankylosing spondylitis and diagnosis is approximately 8-11 years. This due largely in part to the condition being misdiagnosed or undiagnosed for long periods of time. Currently, there’s no direct test to effective diagnose ankylosing spondylitis. A physical examination, MRI and X-ray may reveal characteristic changes of the spine and joints, but this is by no means a foil-proof method of diagnosis. People with this condition may assume they pulled a muscle or lifted an object the wrong way. But as the condition becomes worse, and the pain increases, they realize this isn’t just a pulled muscle.
Surprisingly, pain associated with ankylosing spondylitis is most severe with the individual is resting as opposed to being physically active. Children under the age of 18 who suffer from this condition may experience pain in other parts of the body as well, including the knee, ankles, feet and elbows.
Ankylosing spondylitis is roughly 2-3 times more common in men. Although it’s more common in adults, it can strike anyone, regardless of age.
There’s no known cure for ankylosing spondylitis, but there are treatment options available to help individuals manage the symptoms. Treatment varies depending on the severity of the condition. In minor cases, a medical practitioner may recommend taking an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID, such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen. In more severe cases, they may recommend corticosteroid therapy, TNF-inhibitors, or surgery in severe cases.
Physical therapy has also proved beneficial in reducing the pain and discomfort caused by ankylosing spondylitis. More specifically, group-based exercises that focus on low-impact exercises are ideal, as they promote better health without straining the vertebrae and joints.
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