What is spondylitis and how is it treated?

Spondylitis is a relatively rare form of chronic, progressive arthritis that sometimes runs in families. The most common type is ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory condition that primarily affects the joints in the lower back where the spine meets the hips. Ankylosing spondylitis can produce symptoms like back pain and stiffness, and also can cause the spine to gradually lose flexibility over time. In severe cases, this can lead to an exaggerated curvature of the spine.

Presently, there is no known cure for ankylosing spondylitis. Therefore, the goals of treatment are usually to manage pain and inflammation and slow its progression. These goals can often be accomplished with nonsurgical treatments.

Conservative spondylitis treatment

After confirming a diagnosis and evaluating a patient’s symptoms, a physician can recommend ways to reduce the discomfort of ankylosing spondylitis. Some conservative approaches that many people find helpful include:

  • Lifestyle adjustments — Positive habits like maintaining a healthy body weight, eating a nutritious diet, quitting tobacco use and getting sufficient rest can often help alleviate spinal discomfort.
  • Medications — Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are usually the first-line treatment for ankylosing spondylitis. If NSAIDs do not provide adequate relief, a physician may prescribe a stronger, second-line medication, such as a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) or a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blocker.
  • Exercise — Regular physical activity can enhance spinal flexibility, strengthen core muscles, improve posture and reduce back pain. A physical therapist can be an excellent resource, especially if he or she has prior experience in helping patients address ankylosing spondylitis symptoms.
  • Hot and cold compresses — Applying heat to stiff joints and sore muscles can increase circulation, prevent muscle spasms and promote relaxation. Applying cold to inflamed joints can reduce swelling and numb pain.

Surgical spondylitis treatment

In the most advanced cases of ankylosing spondylitis, treatment options may include surgery to address kyphosis (exaggerated rounding of the back) and to provide some measure of spinal mobility. Though Laser Spine Institute does not provide minimally invasive surgery to treat spondylitis, our care team can help you find alternative treatments to help reduce your pain.