man speaking with doctor about his back pain

There are many different forms of arthritis that occur in the human body, and one of the less familiar forms of it is called ankylosing spondylitis. This condition primarily affects the spine and causes the spinal joints to become inflamed and painful.1

It is very important for this condition to be diagnosed and treated promptly because it can lead to the formation of new bones in the spine and even for the spine to fuse together in immovable positions. The CDC estimates that around 2.7 million adults in the U.S. have ankylosing spondylitis.2

This article will describe the condition of ankylosing spondylitis, including detailed information about its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

Ankylosing Spondylitis Causes

After addressing the question of what is ankylosing spondylitis, the next logical question is what its causes are. Researchers believe that there is a strong genetic component to the development of ankylosing spondylitis.3 Studies have shown that bacterial infections can also trigger the onset of ankylosing spondylitis, especially gastrointestinal infections.4

Ankylosing Spondylitis Symptoms

Pain and stiffness in the neck down to the lower back region of the body are the early warning signs of ankylosing spondylitis.3 Other common ankylosing spondylitis symptoms are bony fusions and ligament and tendon pain.

The most common place for ankylosing spondylitis symptoms to occur is in the spine; however, this condition can affect other joints as well. Patients with ankylosing spondylitis may also experience pain, stiffness, and swelling in the hips, ribs, shoulders, hands, and feet. In rarer cases, ankylosing spondylitis can even affect a person’s eyes, heart, and lungs.

It is common for ankylosing spondylitis symptoms to present themselves in late adolescence and in a person’s early 20s. However, people in a wide range of ages continue to be diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis.

How Ankylosing Spondylitis is Diagnosed

After consulting a primary care physician about the symptoms being experienced, ankylosing spondylitis is often diagnosed by a rheumatologist who is experienced in disorders of the joints and bones.1 Rheumatologists typically factor in medical and family history, a physical exam, X-rays of the back and hips, chest measurements while breathing, and blood work while making a diagnosis.

Treatment Options for Ankylosing Spondylitis

Unfortunately, there is no definitive cure for ankylosing spondylitis, but there are treatments available to manage and reduce the symptoms.5 Physical and occupational therapy are often recommended for ankylosing spondylitis patients to help prevent deformities and maintain good posture.6,7 Daily exercise can also help strengthen the muscles around the spine to achieve these goals.1,3,8 Some ankylosing spondylitis patients take NSAIDs, like ibuprofen and aspirin, to help with the pain. Meanwhile, targeted topical creams, like JointFlex, can help relieve pain where it hurts the most when massaged into the neck and back.

In severe cases, artificial joint replacement surgery may be an option to consider. To prevent ankylosing spondylitis symptoms from getting worse, individuals are advised not to smoke tobacco products and to sleep on a firm mattress.6,9 The best sleeping position for someone with this condition is a flat back without thick pillows under the head or to prop up the legs.10

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1. Kontzias, A. (2017 July). Ankylosing spondylitis. The Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Retrieved November 2, 2018 from,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders/joint-disorders/ankylosing-spondylitis#v34445915.
2. Frank, J. (2017 April 6). Understanding the different names and classifications for spondyloarthritis (SpA). Arthritis Health. Retrieved November 2, 2018 from
3. Ankylosing spondylitis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Retrieved November 2, 2018 from
4. What is ankylosing spondylitis? Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved November 2, 2018 from
5. Ankylosing spondylitis. Better Health Channel. Retrieved November 2, 2018 from
6. Ankylosing spondylitis self-care. Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved November 2, 2018 from
7. Tricás-Moreno, J. M., Lucha-López, M. O., Lucha-López, A. C., Salavera-Bordás, C., & Vidal-Peracho, C. (2016 April 28).  Optimizing physical therapy for ankylosing spondylitis: a case study in a young football player. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 28, 1392-1397. Retrieved November 1, 2018 from National Center of Biotechnology Information
8. Ankylosing spondylitis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Retrieved November 1, 2018 from
9. Zhang, S., Li, Y., Xu, X., Feng, X., Yang, D., & Lin, G. (2015 August 15). Effect of cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption on disease activity and physical functioning in ankylosing spondylitis: a cross-sectional study. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, 8, 13919–13927. Retrieved November 2, 2018 from National Center of Biotechnology Information
10. Deardorff, W.W. (2016 August 12). How to sleep better if you have ankylosing spondylitis. Arthritis Health. Retrieved November 2, 2018 from