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Diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis? Biologics can help >>

Ankylosing Spondylitis


Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects your spine. Inflammation in the vertebrae causes them to become fused (joined). This makes your spine less flexible than it should be. Signs and symptoms begin in your tailbone area and move up your back and into your neck over time. Other joints that may be affected include the shoulder, hip, and knee. You may also have inflammation in your eyes, bowels, heart, or lungs.


Return to the emergency department if:

  • You cannot move your legs.
  • You fall and think you have broken a bone.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have eye pain or redness, become sensitive to light, or have blurred vision.
  • You have new or worsening symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


You may need any of the following:

  • Steroids help reduce pain caused by swelling.
  • Immune suppressants help decrease inflammation.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Go to physical therapy as directed:

A physical therapist can teach you exercises to keep your back and other joints flexible. Therapy can also help reduce pain and make it easier for you to do your daily activities. You may also learn deep breathing exercises to help your chest expand fully when you breathe.

Manage ankylosing spondylitis:

  • Avoid activities that strain your back. Do not lift heavy objects. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to play sports. Some sports may be too rough for you to play safely.
  • Maintain good posture. Sit and stand up straight. Only sit in straight-backed chairs, with your back pressed against the back of the chair. Do not lean forward when you are working at a computer or at a desk. An occupational therapist can show you ways to work at a desk without harming your spine. Sleep on your back, on a hard mattress. Do not put pillows under your neck or knees.
  • Move often during the day. Try not to stay in one position for long periods of time. For example, do not stand for long periods. Do not go for long car rides. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you swim for exercise. Swimming will keep stress off your back and prevent you from moving your back awkwardly. Exercise helps keep your spine flexible. Exercise can also help build muscle. Muscle helps protect your bones.
  • Do deep breathing exercises as directed. Ankylosing spondylitis can make it difficult for you to breathe if your posture becomes bent over. Your healthcare provider may recommend breathing exercises.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage and make it more difficult for you to breathe. Nicotine can also increase bone loss. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you need help quitting. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

Manage your symptoms:

  • Apply heat as directed. Heat helps decrease pain. Use a heat pack, or soak a small towel in warm water. Wring out the extra water and apply the towel to the sore area. Do this for 15 minutes every hour, or as directed.
  • Apply ice as directed. Ice helps decrease pain and swelling, and helps prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a bag. Cover the bag with a small towel and apply the bag to the area for 20 minutes every hour, or as directed.
  • Reach or maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight puts pressure on your spine and other joints. This can increase your symptoms and make ankylosing spondylitis worse. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. He can help you create a healthy weight loss plan if you are overweight.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, and legumes, such as lentils. Your healthcare provider may recommend you increase the amount of calcium and vitamin D you get. Calcium and vitamin D work together to help create or maintain bone.
  • Protect yourself from falls. Make sure paths in your home are clear. Tape down ends of throw rugs and electric cords. Keep paths well lit so you can see where you are going. These steps will help prevent you from tripping as you walk around your house. Your healthcare provider may also recommend that you use a walker, cane, or other supportive device. These can help you keep your balance.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

You may need ongoing tests or treatment. Your healthcare provider may want to measure your height every few months. This will help show if you are developing kyphosis (a bent over posture). You may also be referred to an eye or gastrointestinal specialist. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.