How does ankylosing spondylitis occur?

The exact causes of ankylosing spondylitis are not yet well understood. This relatively rare type of inflammatory arthritis develops in the spinal joints, causing them to become swollen and painful. The condition can also affect other joints where ligaments or tendons attach to bone, such as the shoulders, hips, knees and feet. As research continues, more is being learned about how and why it occurs.

Currently, some researchers believe that genetics may play a role in the development of ankylosing spondylitis. Specifically, many people who are diagnosed with this condition also test positive for a certain protein found on the surface of white blood cells. However, a direct causal link has not been established.

Spondylitis

Sometimes, when joints become inflamed, the body responds by producing protective bone spurs in the affected areas. As these excess bony deposits build up in the spinal joints over time, the bones can gradually become fused together. This can lead to a loss of spinal flexibility and mobility, making it difficult for an individual to bend, walk and perform daily activities. In very advanced stages, ankylosing spondylitis can also result in kyphosis, a condition characterized by an excessive curvature of the upper spine, which creates a “hunchbacked” appearance.

Treatment options for ankylosing spondylitis

Early treatment can sometimes prevent ankylosing spondylitis from worsening. Some medications that are commonly used for this purpose include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors. Physical therapy and exercise can also be helpful for relieving symptoms. Additionally, lifestyle habits like maintaining a healthy body weight, eating a nutritious diet and getting enough sleep can be effective not only for ankylosing spondylitis treatment, but also improving overall health. Finally, tobacco use is known to accelerate the progression of ankylosing spondylitis. People who smoke are four times more likely to have severe joint damage than their nonsmoking counterparts.

In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to correct deformities, such as severe spine curvatures, and there is always a chance of recurring ankylosis (joint stiffening and immobility due to bone fusion). Laser Spine Institute does not offer minimally invasive spine surgery to treat ankylosing spondylitis. However, our care team can help you find alternative treatments to help relieve your chronic back pain and other symptoms.