What is Spondylitis? Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Treatment

By Alley Benton
Updated April 13, 2017
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What is Spondylitis? Causes, Signs, Symptoms, TreatmentSpondylitis is a form of arthritis that affects the spinal column. People who suffer from this condition will often experience stiffness throughout the neck, along the spine, and down to the lower back. The bones of the spine can fuse together, leading to rigidity and difficulty moving, and the changes that occur can either be severe or mild, leading to a posture-based transformation. In many cases, early diagnosis and treatment for spondylitis can help to limit deformity, stiffness, and pain.

Today, spondylitis affects between 0.1% and 0.5% of the adult population. Though it may occur at any age, it often strikes those in their teens and early twenties. Additionally, the problem is less common in women and can be more common among some Native American tribes. In this article, we'll focus on what is spondylitis.

What is Spondylitis? Signs and Symptoms

Some of the common signs and symptoms of spondylitis are:

1. Stiffness and Pain

Constant stiffness and pain in the hips, buttocks, and lower back that continue for more than three months is a common sign of spondylitis. Often, the condition begins around the sacroiliac joints, where the lowest major area of the spine joins with the bone of the pelvis within the lower region.

2. Pain in Tendons and Ligaments

Spondylitis often affects some of the tendons and ligaments attached to the bones around the spine. Inflammation in the tendon can cause stiffness and pain in the area beneath or behind the heel, such as the Achilles tendon located towards the back of the ankle.

3. Bone Fusion

Ankylosing spondylitis can cause overgrowth within the bones, which can lead to an abnormal joining of the bones called a "bone fusion". The fusion that impacts the back, neck, or hips can often impair a person's normal function on a daily basis. Additionally, fusion of the ribs to the breastbone or spine might limit your ability to take deeper breaths.

Though the cause of this problem is largely unknown, there could be a significant genetic factor. Most people with this condition have a gene known as HLA-B27, and the people with this gene are more likely to suffer from spondylitis.

What Is Spondylitis? Treatment Options

There's no cure for this condition but there are treatments that can minimize the symptoms. Often, the goal of treatment is to reduce stiffness and pain, improve posture, prevent deformity, and enhance the ability to perform normal activities. When treated properly, people with this condition can often lead normal lives. Options for treatment include occupational and physical therapy to maintain motion and reduce deformity. Additionally, exercise can reduce stiffness and improve the strength of the muscles that support the joints to lower the risk of disability.

Deep breathing exercises can help to keep the chest flexible, and certain medications can provide relief from stiffness and pain. For instance, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are often used to help manage symptoms. In rare situations, surgeons might replace damaged joints with artificial joints in the knees or hips. People with spondylitis are also encouraged to avoid tobacco or smoking products, because these can aggravate the condition.

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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional.