Spondylitis symptoms typically develop over time and vary from patient to patient, but the most common symptoms reside in the lower back and pelvis and include dull pain, stiffness, reduced range of motion and short-term episodes of severe pain.
In addition to symptoms in the spine and pelvic region, spondylitis symptoms may also be felt in other areas of the body. Fatigue, appetite loss, fever and eye inflammation are all possible symptoms of spondylitis.
As the disease progresses, it can lead to the overgrowth of bones in the spine and eventually, the fusing of vertebrae and other bones in the body. Once the bones of the neck, back, hips and ribs join together, it can limit a person’s ability to perform everyday activities and can even inhibit normal breathing.
Spondylitis is a category of arthritis that primarily affects the joints of the spine and hips. Although there are several different types of spondylitis – ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, enteropathic arthritis, reactive arthritis, Juvenile SpA and undifferentiated SpA – symptoms can be similar for all forms, with a few notable exceptions.
Simply put, spondylitis – or, more accurately, ankylosing spondylitis – is a particular type of arthritis of the spine. The word “spondylitis,” in fact, is derived from the Greek work “spondylos,” for “vertebra,” added to the suffix –itis, meaning inflammation. Spondylitis symptoms can include the following:
- The lack of other signs or markers that might indicate other types of arthritis
- Inflammation of the spine, sacroiliac joints (between the spine and pelvis), and other joints
- The attachment of ligaments to the bone
One of the key identifying characteristics of a spondylitis diagnosis is the possibility of ligaments and bones fusing to one another, and bone overgrowth causing bones (especially vertebrae) to do the same. The result can be devastating over time, causing:
- Kyphosis (an exaggerated leaning forward of the torso)
- Spinal deformity
- Other inflammatory conditions, such as uveitis
While the precise underlying origin of the condition is not completely understood, genetics are believed to play a role. Most spondylitis patients carry a gene called HLA-B27, but about 10 percent of people found with this gene have no spondylitis symptoms or signs at all.
There is no cure for this condition, so treatment is always geared toward easing spondylitis symptoms and salvaging as much quality of life as possible. Pain medication, anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapy focused on posture and flexibility are key to such treatment, as they help slow or stop the worsening of spondylitis symptoms. A regimen of gentle stretching might be coupled with strength training to improve flexibility and to create more soft tissue support for the arthritic joints. In advanced cases of ankylosing spondylitis, spine surgery may be necessary to break up and prevent permanent vertebral fusion. In addition, when inflammation arises elsewhere in the body due to a collateral condition that has resulted from spondylitis, treatment must take those conditions into account as well.