Did you know that back pain is one of the leading causes of missed work days? And over 80% of adults seek treatment for back pain at some point in their lives? It may be a relatively common condition, but sometimes it’s more than a strained back or a pulled muscle. Sometimes it’s an indicator of ankylosing spondylitis (AS).
What Is AS?
In short, AS is a form of arthritis. While it can affect multiple areas in the body, it mostly affects the vertebrae in the spine. The vertebrae become inflamed and, after an extended period of time, they can actually fuse together, resulting in a deformed spine.
It affects men and women alike, and although it can occur at any age, it often starts in the teenage years and when people are in their twenties.
There is no known cause, but there seems to be a strong genetic factor that scientists are still trying to explain. Several genes are said to potentially play a role, but one gene mentioned in particular is HLA-B27. Not everyone with this gene gets AS, and not everyone with AS has this gene, but there is a strong correlation.
Warning Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of AS will vary depending on the individual, but some of them include:
- Stiffness or pain in your lower back
- Progressively worsening back pain
- Stiffness or pain in your hips
- Neck pain
- Pain that improves with exercise
- Pain that worsens with rest
- Short, painful episodes of pain (called “flares”)
- Eye inflammation
The only way to know for sure is to meet with a health care provider and have a detailed physical exam. The provider will also probably order some sort of imaging test, like an X-ray or an MRI.
At this time, there’s no cure for AS, but there are things you can do to make yourself more comfortable.
Physical therapy. This can help you in multiple ways, like maintaining good posture, increasing flexibility, and helping with pain relief. Therapists can create specific stretches and exercises for you and your situation.
Exercise. Daily exercise can really help reduce stiffness and strengthen your muscles. Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise for individuals with AS.
Pain management. Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is a popular choice, but these drugs can hurt your GI tract. Luckily, NSAIDs aren’t your only option. Certain pain management injections, like transforaminal nerve root blocks or caudal epidural injections, are incredibly effective. Transforaminal nerve root blocks will target the specific nerves around the vertebrae that are causing pain. Caudal epidural injections work in two ways: first, an anesthetic blocks the pain signals going to the brain, and then a steroid reduces the inflammation. For more information on the medical injections we offer at 360 Back and Spine Center, click here [link to blog on injections].
If you’ve been experiencing back pain, schedule an appointment today with 360 Back and Spine at 682-223-1406 to get your questions answered! Remember, AS is a chronic disease that only worsens over time. Getting the appropriate treatment early on will help you manage its progression.