What is Arthritis Spondylitis?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 06 March 2019
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Arthritis spondylitis is a chronic condition that primarily affects the spine, causing pain and a loss of flexibility in the joints of the back. Spondylitis can be isolated to small regions in the neck or lower back or cause problems along the entire spine. Doctors are unsure of the exact causes of arthritis spondylitis, but both age-related cartilage deterioration and genetic factors are involved in most cases. Anti-inflammatory medications and guided physical therapy are helpful in managing mild symptoms, though surgery may be necessary if joints are severely damaged.

Men over the age of 50 are at the highest risk of developing arthritis spondylitis, but the disorder can affect a person of any age. When back pain affects a child or young adult, it is usually due to an inherited autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis. Older people may also have autoimmune conditions, but general wear-and-tear on the spine and age-related spinal disk degeneration are usually the most significant underlying factors.

Arthritis spondylitis can cause a number of different symptoms. In the early stages, a person may experience pain in the hips, lower back, shoulders, or neck following physical activity. Pain tends to worsen and symptoms come on more frequently as the condition progresses. Eventually, the affected area of the spine feels stiff and painful all the time. Symptoms of arthritis spondylitis can become severe enough to make even simple activities such as walking or sitting upright very difficult.


In order to diagnose arthritis spondylitis and rule out other causes of back pain, a doctor usually performs several types of tests. First, he or she evaluates physical symptoms through a routine exam and asks whether or not there is a family history of arthritis. X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging tests reveal the extent of damage to vertebra and disks in the back. Blood samples are taken and analyzed to screen for autoantibodies that might be triggering arthritic responses.

A patient with relatively minor back problems related to arthritis spondylitis is usually prescribed a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. If symptoms persist or worsen, oral or injected corticosteroids may be able to help relieve pain and inflammation. Physical therapy is also important to maintain strength and flexibility in the spine. A physician or trainer can help a patient create a safe, effective workout routine.

Arthritis spondylitis cannot be cured, and some patients experience debilitating back problems despite medical care. Herniated disks and vertebrae compression due to arthritis generally require surgery. A surgeon may need to permanently fuse vertebrae together or insert an artificial cushioning disk between bones to relieve pain and pressure. Ongoing physical therapy can help restore some flexibility following surgery, but many patients are unable to return to normal physical activity levels.



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