What joints are affected by ankylosing spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the joints and ligaments in the lumbar spine (lower back), most notably the sacroiliac (SI) joint in the pelvis. Over time, the vertebrae may begin to fuse together, leading to spinal inflexibility and curvature that can make it difficult to bend and move. The accompanying pain and stiffness usually intensify with rest and improve with activity.

Can ankylosing spondylitis affect other areas of the body besides the spine?

In addition to the lower back, ankylosing spondylitis can affect other joints, ligaments and tendons throughout the body. For instance, pain and stiffness can occur in the:

  • Neck
  • Shoulders
  • Hips
  • Knees
  • Ankles
  • Achilles tendons
  • Plantar fascia

Additionally, jaw inflammation can interfere with chewing, and rib involvement can lead to breathing difficulties. Ankylosing spondylitis can also cause inflammation that damages the eyes, lungs or heart. Unlike other forms of arthritis, however, ankylosing spondylitis does not usually affect the hands and fingers.

What does it feel like to have ankylosing spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis can affect different parts of the body in different ways. Nevertheless, most people experience periodic episodes in which their symptoms become noticeably worse. These flare-ups, which can occur suddenly and produce pain and stiffness all over the body, may last for a few days or weeks and then be followed by a period of relative relief. Many people also experience extreme tiredness, which may be due to the energy expended in fighting off the inflammation. Pain-related sleep disruption can further contribute to the fatigue.

Even though Laser Spine Institute does not specifically treat ankylosing spondylitis, we help many people explore their treatment options — both conservative and surgical — to relieve some of the pain and stiffness that often accompany this chronic inflammatory condition.