Spondylitis — an overview of definition, causes and treatment options


Spondylitis is a spine condition that causes inflammation in the spine, specifically in the vertebrae and the joints. If the condition is severe, the joints and vertebrae can swell and move out of alignment in the spine. This can restrict movement, cause stiffness, and possibly impact a surrounding nerve.

While spondylitis is considered a rare disease, meaning less than 200,000 people a year have this condition, it can be amplified by other spine conditions, such as facet arthritis. If you suspect that you suffer from spondylitis, we encourage you to continue researching the condition and to schedule an appointment with your physician to review your symptoms and MRI or CT scan for further evaluation.

Spondylitis defined

Spondylitis is an umbrella term that is often used by physicians to refer to a group of chronic conditions that involve inflammation of the spinal vertebrae or facet joints. This group of micro-conditions includes ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, undifferentiated spondyloarthropathy, juvenile spondyloarthropathy, reactive arthritis and enteropathic arthritis.

The most common condition of spondylitis is ankylosing spondylitis. Ankylosing spondylitis is a spine condition that describes the stiffness and pain in the spine caused by arthritis in the joints and vertebrae. If left untreated, ankylosing spondylitis can cause limited mobility and debilitating pain from the inflammation of the joints compressing a local nerve root.

Spondylitis can appear as a spine condition, a complication of another spine condition, or a symptom of a disease. If you are experiencing chronic, severe pain accompanied by stiffness and limited mobility, you should schedule an appointment with your physician to discuss the possibility of you having spondylitis.

Causes of spondylitis

Spondylitis is a complex spine condition because it can be caused from spinal arthritis or as a side effect of a different spine condition. In very rare cases, spondylitis can be a symptom of another medical condition, such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or ulcerative colitis.

Some of the most common causes of spondylitis include:

  • Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) — Osteoarthritis affects the joints of the spine, causing them to stiffen and eventually break down due to arthritis. This condition specifically affects the thin cartilage between the joints of the spine. As the cartilage breaks down, the joints become painful and inflamed. This inflammation and swelling of the spine results in spondylitis.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis — Much like osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis affects the tendons and ligaments around the bones and joints of the spine. This form of arthritis breaks down the ligaments surrounding the joints, causing pain and swelling of the spine. If left untreated, the joints could become so inflamed that spinal mobility becomes impaired.
  • Spinal infection — Spinal infection is a condition that can cause swelling in the vertebrae and joints of the spine. Much like ankylosing spondylitis, spinal infection can cause spinal swelling that prevents a full range of motion in the spine.

Other causes of spondylitis include rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, and injury to the spine.

Treatment options

Treatment for every spine condition should begin with conservative pain relief options, such as physical therapy, hot/cold compresses, stretches, and medication. However, if your spondylitis is a result of another disease or spine condition, it is imperative that you consult your physician before beginning a treatment regimen for your condition. Your physician will determine the cause of your spondylitis and the severity of your condition. You can work collaboratively to create a treatment plan that is right for you.

If you do not respond to conservative treatment, you may consider a surgical option. Laser Spine Institute does not treat spondylitis. Our care team can help patients with spondylitis find treatment options, either conservative or surgical, to help relieve some of the pain associated with spondylitis.