Ankylosing spondylitis is a kind of arthritis that affects the joints and ligaments of your spine. ‘Ankylosing’ means stiff and ‘spondylo’ means vertebra.
Ankylosing spondylitis can affect other large joints, and may also cause problems in your eyes, skin, bowel and heart.
Although there is no known cure for ankylosing spondylitis, treatment can relieve pain and other symptoms.
Causes of 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).
Ankylosing spondylitis symptoms
The symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis tend to come and go. The more common symptoms include:
- back pain or buttock pain, that 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
- problems with your heart, lungs, bowel, skin or eyes.
Many of these symptoms can be a sign of other conditions, so it’s best to seek medical advice to make a diagnosis.
Ankylosing spondylitis diagnosis
Ankylosing spondylitis treatments
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 medications to relieve inflammation, pain and stiffness. Surgery may be recommended to replace or remove joints or thickened bone. However, most people with ankylosing spondylitis don’t need surgery.
Last reviewed: February 2017