Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine, although other joints can become involved. It causes inflammation of the spinal joints (vertebrae) that can lead to severe, chronic pain and discomfort. In the most advanced cases (but not in all cases), this inflammation can lead to new bone formation on the spine, causing the spine to fuse in a fixed, immobile position, sometimes creating a forward-stooped posture. This forward curvature of the spine is called kyphosis. Ankylosing Spondylitis can also cause inflammation, pain and stiffness in other areas of the body such as the shoulders, hips, ribs, heels and small joints of the hands and feet. The hallmark feature of ankylosing spondylitis is the involvement of the sacroiliac (SI) joints during the progression of the disease, which are the joints at the base of the spine, where the spine joins the pelvis.
The severity of AS varies greatly from person to person, and not everyone will experience the most serious complications or have spinal fusion. Some will experience only intermittent back pain and discomfort, but others will experience severe pain and stiffness over multiple areas of the body for long periods of time. AS can be very debilitating, and in some cases, lead to disability. Almost all cases of AS are characterized by acute, painful episodes (also known as “flares”) followed by temporary periods of remission where symptoms subside. It is important to know that ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic, or life long disease and that the severity of AS has nothing to do with age or gender. It can be just as severe in women and children as it is in men. The role of exercise and physiotherapy is important in the management of patients with ankylosing spondylitis. Stabilizing and supporting with bracing products can help in relieving pain and keeping you active.