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Ankylosing spondylitis

3-minute read

What is ankylosing spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis is a kind of arthritis that affects the joints and ligaments of your spine. ‘Ankylosing’ means stiff and ‘spondylo’ means vertebra.

It can affect other large joints, and can be related to problems in your eyes, skin, bowel and heart.

Although there is no known cure for ankylosing spondylitis, treatment can relieve pain and other symptoms.

What causes ankylosing spondylitis?

The causes of ankylosing spondylitis are not yet understood. However, doctors believe genetics may play a role, because ankylosing spondylitis tends to run in families. Also, most people with ankylosing spondylitis share the same gene (called HLA-B27).

What are the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis?

The symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis tend to come and go. The more common symptoms include:

  • pain or stiffness in the back, neck or buttocks, which may be worse in bed at night
  • stiffness in the morning, or after long periods of rest
  • other joint pain
  • pain in tendons and ligaments, such as in the chest wall, soles of the feet, or heels

Many of these symptoms can be a sign of other conditions, so it’s best to seek medical advice to make a diagnosis.

Illustration showing the difference between an anatomy of a normal spine, in comparison to one with ankylosing spondylitis.
An illustration showing the difference between an anatomy of a normal spine, in comparison to one with ankylosing spondylitis.

How is ankylosing spondylitis diagnosed?

Your doctor will talk to you and examine you. You may also be asked to have an x-ray and blood tests and may be referred to a joint specialist (rheumatologist).

How is ankylosing spondylitis treated?

There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, but new medicines can help to control the condition.

In most cases, ankylosing spondylitis is well controlled with treatment and the pain improves over time

The aim of treatment is to reduce pain and stiffness, and prevent or delay spinal deformity or other complications. If you have ankylosing spondylitis, your doctor may suggest that you try physiotherapy, including different types of exercise to strengthen your back, encourage movement in the spine and reduce pain.

You may also be prescribed anti-inflammatories or other types of medicines to relieve inflammation, pain and stiffness.

Resources and support

  • Arthritis Australia has more information on ankylosing spondylitis on its website and or call the Arthritis Information Line on 1800 011 041
  • Detailed information on living with ankylosing spondylitis is in this Arthritis Australia booklet

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Last reviewed: January 2021

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