Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a form of inflammatory arthritis that affects the spine. In severe cases of ankylosing spondylitis, the disease causes new bone formation, which can cause the bones in the spine to fuse (join) together.
Involvement of the sacroiliac joints (SI joints) is classic as the disease progresses. When vertebrae or other bones/joints fuse together, the spine becomes stiff and immobile. Sometimes this can lead to significant changes in posture, such as kyphosis—an abnormal forward position of the upper spine resembling a hunched back. The severity of AS can vary greatly from person to person. Some people experience intermittent back pain, and others have severe pain and stiffness for long periods of time. Almost all cases are characterized by acute pain followed by temporary remission when symptoms subside. In some cases, AS may affect other parts of the body, such as the eyes.
Exact Cause of Anklyosing Spondylitis Unknown Although the exact cause of ankylosing spondylitis isn’t known, scientists know that genetics plays a role in the disease. Most people who have ankylosing spondylitis also produce the protein human leukocyte antigen B27 (HLA-B27). Therefore, the doctor may order the blood test that detects HLA-B27. This marker is found in more than 95% of Caucasians with AS. However, you do not have to have the HLA-B27 protein to have AS, and most people with this marker never get ankylosing spondylitis.
Physical Therapy and Exercise Physical therapy and exercise are very important for people with AS. Not only can gentle stretching and exercise (as tolerated) help relieve back and/or neck stiffness; it can help to you stay as flexible and mobile as possible. Your physical therapist can prescribe a home stretching/exercise program, as well as help you with good practices for proper posture. Furthermore, cold therapies can help reduce inflammation, and heat can help relieve joint stiffness.