Ankylosing Spondylitis Animation

How this type of inflammatory arthritis causes the spine to fuse; plus info about symptoms, risk factors, genetics and treatment.

Do you have ankylosing spondylitis, a form of inflammatory arthritis that affects the spine? This narrated video animation provides an overview of ankylosing spondylitis symptoms and treatments and explains why this arthritic disease is also called bamboo spine. Ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a type of spondyloarthritis, is an inflammatory arthritis that causes the spine and pelvis to stiffen and eventually grow (fuse) together.

What Is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

You can learn a lot about AS by breaking down the meaning of its name:

  • Ankylosing means fusing together.
  • Spondyl comes from Greek word for vertebra, or spinal bone.
  • Itis means inflammation.

Ankylosing spondylitis causes inflammation of your spine’s facet joints and sacroiliac joints (SI joints), which results in loss of flexibility as the spine stiffens. The disease leads to calcification of the spine’s ligaments and discs, and causes these soft structures to harden and fuse together with the joints and vertebral bodies. The spine becomes hard, brittle and susceptible to fracture. Common symptoms of AS include pain, achiness and stiffness.
Healthy spine compared to one with Ankylosing SpondylitisAnkylosing spondylitis is sometimes called “bamboo spine” because in advanced cases the spine fuses together resembling a piece of bamboo. Photo Source:

Who Is at Risk?

Men are as much as 3 times likelier to develop AS than women. The disease is also usually diagnosed in young adults between 20 and 30 years old.

The biggest risk factor for developing a severe form of AS is smoking. If you smoke and have ankylosing spondylitis, talk to your doctor about strategies to help you quit.

Ankylosing Spondylitis Symptoms

There’s a wide spectrum of symptoms associated with AS—some forms of the disease are mild, while others are severe. The first symptom people with AS experience is typically low back pain caused inflammation or one or both sacroiliac joints (called sacroiliitis). The SI joints are the pair of joints where your spine and pelvis come together.

As the disease progresses, you may experience back and neck stiffness. The loss of flexibility in your spine can make some daily activities challenging, particularly those that involve bending.

While there are many reasons why people develop poor posture, your posture may change as a result of AS. Performing a simple wall test may help identify early changes. Stand with your back and heels touching against a wall. If your spine is straight, the back of your head should be able to touch the wall while your chin is parallel to the floor. If your head is not able to touch the wall, you may be developing an abnormal curvature of the spine, such as kyphosis or lordosis.

Minding your posture and posture exercises may help prevent or reduce the severity of this potential complication of ankylosing spondylitis and keep your spine in healthy alignment.

In advanced cases of AS, abnormal spinal curvature may develop—kyphosis. A stooped forward position or hunchback is typical of kyphosis, as is a forward and downward position of the head, sometimes described as a chin-on-chest deformity. Sometimes kyphosis is caused by spinal stress fractures.

What Causes Ankylosing Spondylitis?

The exact cause of AS isn't known, but the medical and research communities have some ideas. Genetics may play a role, because ankylosing spondylitis tends to run in families. If one of your immediate family members has or had this form of arthritis, you are more likely to develop it.

Research involving the human leukocyte antigen HLA-B has determined the variation—HLA-B27 may increase a person’s risk for developing ankylosing spondylitis. While not everyone who has the HLA-B27 antigen will develop ankylosing spondylitis, about 90% of people with AS do have the marker.

Other immune system-related genes associated with ankylosing spondylitis include endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidase 1 (ERAP1), interleuken 1 apha (IL1A), and interleukin 23 receptor (IL23R). However, it is not clear how these gene variations affect a person’s risk of developing AS.

Ankylosing Spondylitis Treatments

The goal of treatment is to reduce your back or neck pain and prevent spinal deformity. Rarely is spine surgery necessary as non-surgical treatment methods often sufficiently manage AS-related symptoms.

Your doctor may recommend medication, physical therapy, posture training, and exercise to address your AS. Exercise is especially beneficial because it helps maintain your range of motion (flexibility) and strength, which is important for people with ankylosing spondylitis. You should also consider putting some fall prevention measures in place at home, as an inflexible spine is at greater risk of fracture.

In addition to addressing the physical aspects of AS, it’s important to acknowledge if your disease is taking a mental and emotional toll. Finding a support group, and talking to your doctor about ways to address feelings of depression or anxiety that may accompany the condition are important to protecting your overall health.

Living Well with Ankylosing Spondylitis

It can feel overwhelming to learn you have AS, but several treatments and lifestyle changes can help manage spine pain and even prevent disease progression. Plus, the medical research community is continuously learning more about this type of inflammatory arthritis—new therapies are helping to make living well with ankylosing spondylitis a reality for more people.

Updated on: 03/01/19
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Non-Surgical Treatments for Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis seldom requires spine surgery. Many nonoperative treatments include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, aquatic therapy, stretching, exercise, and posture training.
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