Quickly, think of a joint in your body. You probably thought of your knee or shoulder—but there are joints along your spine too, which allow the movement of your back. And just like the other joints in your body, these spinal joints are susceptible to the pain and inflammation of arthritis.
Ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis, causes inflammation of the tendons and ligaments that attach to the spine. This eventually leads to sections of the spine fusing together and becoming immobile. Ankylosing spondylitis can also appear in the knee and shoulder joints, but primarily affects the spine.
Because ankylosing spondylitis can be difficult to diagnose and early treatment is crucial to relieve pain and maintain mobility, it helps to know some of the unusual symptoms that set this disease apart from other forms of arthritis:
- The disease occurs most commonly in teen boys and young men.Ankylosing spondylitis can occur in women and children, but the most affected group is young men between the ages of 15 and 30. The average age of diagnosis is 24. Men also tend to have more severe symptoms, which may help explain why they are diagnosed more frequently.
- Pain often starts in the buttocks or lower back. This symptom is caused by inflammation in the sacroiliac joint, where the spine is joined with the pelvis. Pain either comes on quickly or builds gradually in the buttocks and lower back, then radiates down the thigh but not past the knee. For women, the pain may start in the neck; for children, it often begins in the heels or knees.
- Pain can increase with inactivity. Ankylosing spondylitis is unique in that periods of rest—rather than activity—often increase pain and worsen symptoms. Those with the condition may wake up in the morning with pain or stiffness that improves with a shower or light exercise.
- For a full list of symptoms, visit Ankylosing Spondylitis Symptoms.
Untreated ankylosing spondylitis can lead to spine deformities and chronic pain, but early diagnosis and a comprehensive treatment plan helps manage pain and maintain range of motion.
Learn more about how ankylosing spondylitis is diagnosed and treated inour full overview.