As with any chronic illness, spondylitis treatment focuses on treating symptoms and mitigating their effects on the patient’s day-to-day life. Spondylitis is a form of spondyloarthropathy. In general, all forms of spondyloarthropathy are chronic, life-long diseases; they can be treated, but not cured. When the inflammation of spondylitis begins to cause spinal fusion or immobilization, surgical intervention may be required. However, in the early stages of the condition there are many different spondylitis treatment methods that may be considered to improve flexibility within the spine and alleviate back pain.
What is spondylitis?
Spondylitis, also known as ankylosing spondylitis, is a type of arthritis that affects the spinal vertebrae, sacroiliac joints and other joints and bones in the body. Most often, it is characterized by chronic inflammation in the sacroiliac joints, which is the area where the hip bones meet the sacrum in the lower back. One of the most troubling aspects of spondylitis is that it can cause the spontaneous fusion of the vertebral bones. Without proper spondylitis treatment, this chronic inflammatory disease can greatly impact an individual’s quality of life.
Prior to beginning any spondylitis treatment program, it is first incumbent on the patient to receive an accurate diagnosis of their condition from a spine expert, rheumatologist or other medical professional. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and several different kinds of spondyloarthritis that could potentially be to blame for an individual’s discomfort. It should also be noted that while there are several different options for managing the symptoms associated with ankylosing spondylitis, the specific treatment plan recommended by a physician will depend on many different factors, including the patient’s age and health, the extent of the arthritis, the location of the problem and other pertinent details. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to spondylitis treatment. Furthermore, the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis are unpredictable depending on the extent of the condition. For instance, in the early stages, a person with this form of arthritis might simply experience chronic lower back pain, while late-stage patients may develop a pronounced hunch and severe discomfort.
Accordingly, treatment for spondylitis largely depends on the patient’s own specific diagnosis. If arthritis is diagnosed early on, a regimen of conservative techniques may be recommended to help manage symptoms, maintain flexibility and reduce some of the strain placed on the spine. However, with ankylosing spondylitis and other severe forms of arthritic degeneration, surgical intervention may eventually be required to alleviate chronic pain, ensure spine stability, and prevent complete vertebral fusion and immobilization.
With that said, here are a few of the most common initial treatment options for spondylitis:
- Prescription or over-the-counter medication – The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, TNF blockers, biologics and anti-rheumatic drugs can help alleviate swelling and manage pain. To determine the specific course of medications best suited for the individual patient, the physician will carefully review the patient’s specific condition, their medical history and any known allergies to determine the ideal approach. Certain anti-inflammatories are available over the counter, while stronger medication is more carefully regulated and requires physician approval for use.
- Hot and cold compresses – The administration of heat, as with a heating pad, is a proven effective way of increasing the flexibility of tight, inflamed muscles while helping to heal damaged muscle tissue. The use of ice packs, on the other hand, helps alleviate inflammation and numb the pain. Both treatments are popular because they are easy to use, portable and helpful.
- Exercise and stretching – Many arthritis patients are surprised to learn that certain exercises and stretching can be highly effective at both alleviating pain and increasing spinal flexibility. For patients with ankylosing spondylitis, exercise is extremely important for helping to improve posture and flexibility and relieve pain. What’s more, the right kind of workout can strengthen core body muscles, which reduces strain on the arthritic joints. Similarly, certain stretching programs, like yoga and Pilates are quite popular among patients with arthritis as these classes are designed to alleviate sore muscles and foster natural healing. The most important thing is to make sure that any exercise regimen is approved by a spine professional as the wrong kind of physical activity may be extremely painful and make matters worse.
- Lifestyle adjustments – Sometimes, a physician may recommend some minor adjustments to help reduce the burden placed on the spine and improve overall spinal health. Posture corrections are particularly important to help ensure a neutral spine position and the equal distribution of body weight along the spinal column. Healthy dieting may also be recommended to shed extra body weight.
These conservative ankylosing spondylitis treatment options serve as a stopgap to help increase comfort in the patient and make living with spondylitis more tolerable. However, when arthritic degeneration persists, the ultimate reality may be that surgery is needed before the fusion of the sacroiliac joint. It depends entirely on the patient, the extent of their discomfort and the aggressiveness of the spondylitis. Some individuals find they can effectively manage their condition for many years with conservative, non-surgical techniques, while others require surgery sooner rather than later upon being diagnosed with the condition.
Spondylitis and related conditions
Treating the symptoms of one type of spondyloarthritis in some cases, will include treating other conditions that develop as a result of the particular spondyloarthropathy. For example, psoriatic arthritis — another form of spondyloarthritis — often accompanies ankylosing spondylitis and causes skin inflammation and other symptoms of psoriasis; the patient must receive psoriasis treatment in tandem with spondylitis treatment. In more advanced cases of spondylitis, surgery may be necessary — particularly with advanced ankylosing spondylitis, which can result in total spinal fusion if left untreated. The important thing is for the patient to understand that there are options available. Prior to consenting to any surgical procedure, it is advised that the patient receive a second and third opinion and research the various types of surgery that may be used to address the spondylitis. Some patients, for instance, may benefit from minimally invasive procedures that don’t treat the spondylitis directly, but can alleviate painful nerve compression that develops as a result of the arthritic deterioration.