5 Things I Wish My Patients Knew About Ankylosing Spondylitis

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    What You Need to Know About Ankylosing Spondylitis
    Ankylosing spondylitis (AS), also known as spinal arthritis, often causes inflammation in the spine, sacroiliac joints (where the spine meets the pelvis), hips, knees, and shoulders. It may also cause inflammation in the eyes, bowels, and areas in the body where tendons and ligaments attach to the bone. Common AS symptoms include fatigue and chronic pain and stiffness in the lower back, buttocks, and hips. While the cause of AS is not known, there are things you can do to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of this chronic disease. Here are five important things people with AS should know.
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    1. Even if you have this AS gene marker, you may not develop AS.
    Of people with AS, 90% of Caucasians and varying numbers of patients of other races and ethnicities have the genetic protein marker HLA-B27. However, it is important to note the majority of people with this protein never develop AS. My patients often ask me if they should have their children tested for HLA-B27. I tell them that, although a family history of AS is a risk factor, it’s not necessary to get their children tested if there are no symptoms.
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    2. Smoking can accelerate or worsen AS symptoms.
    If you have AS and smoke, it’s time to quit. Smokers, especially men, have more advanced and serious AS symptoms than their non-smoking counterparts: they’ll have more spine damage, and they’ll experience it earlier. On top of that, patients who smoke may not respond as well to their treatment. The good news is that simply quitting cigarette smoking can help reduce spine pain, inflammation, and stiffness.
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    3. Exercise is an integral part of AS treatment.
    Patients sometimes underestimate the most important part of AS treatment: physical therapy (PT). And on top of that, committing to an exercise and stretching routine outside of PT is paramount to your treatment plan. Stretching your back, strengthening your core, working to improve gait stability, and practicing good posture techniques are all critical parts of treating this condition, in addition to taking an anti-inflammatory and other medications as prescribed by your doctor. Exercising and stretching every day can help reduce stiffness and pain, and increase flexibility and mobility.
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    4. People with AS may be at higher risk for bone fractures.
    People with AS have a higher risk for spine fractures because the disease can cause low bone density and osteoporosis. Many patients I see already have osteopenia, which is the stage before osteoporosis of the spine. AS patients can develop this condition at the earliest stages of AS – even before other symptoms occur. If you have AS, it’s important to be aware of this complication, get screened early, and treat it accordingly.
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    5. AS patients have better outcomes if they stay positive and get support.
    Even though AS is a chronic disease, people should feel positive about their prognosis because of the many medications available that can help prevent or alleviate symptoms. Flare-ups may occur occasionally but with regular exercise and stretching and adherence to a treatment plan, most people with AS can live long, active lives. Joining a local support group through the Spondylitis Association of America (SAA) or an online group through can also help patients feel positive about their future health.
5 Things I Wish My Patients Knew About Ankylosing Spondylitis
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THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.