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Ankylosing Spondylitis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.

What is 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. Symptoms begin in your tailbone area and move up your back over time. Other joints that may be affected include the shoulder, neck, and hip.

What are the signs and symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis?

  • Pain in the lower back that gets better with movement (adults)
  • Pain or inflammation in the hips, or where tendons or ligaments attach to bone
  • A fever or fatigue
  • Redness or pain in one or both eyes
  • Loss of appetite, or weight loss without trying
  • A bent over posture to help relieve back pain
  • Trouble breathing, or pain with deep breathing

How is ankylosing spondylitis treated?

The goal of treatment is to control your symptoms, improve movement and function, and maintain work and daily activities. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines:
    • 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 your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
    • Steroids injected into a joint may help decrease pain and stiffness.
    • Biologic therapy helps decrease swelling, pain, and stiffness. These medicines increase the risk of infection. Your healthcare provider will need to monitor you closely while you are taking these medicines.
  • Surgery may be needed if your symptoms are severe or other treatments do not work. You may need to have your spine straightened. Your hip or other joints may need to be replaced if they are damaged.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to manage ankylosing spondylitis?

  • 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.
  • 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 flat on your back on a firm mattress. Do not use a pillow under your head 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 swimming, tai chi, or walking for low impact exercise. Exercise helps keep your spine flexible.
  • Do deep breathing exercises as directed, usually 2 to 3 times per day. Ankylosing spondylitis can make it difficult for you to breathe if your posture becomes bent over.
  • 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.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

What can I do to manage my symptoms?

  • Apply heat on your back for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms.
  • Apply ice on your back for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • 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.
  • Prevent a fall. 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.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

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

When should I call my doctor?

  • 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.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Learn more about Ankylosing Spondylitis

Treatment options

Symptoms and treatments

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.