Common Treatment Options for Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spine primarily. The condition forces the individual vertebrae of the spine to fuse together. The bone fusion also affects the nearby bone mass, including one’s rib cage, resulting in an abnormal joining of bones. Spondylitis commonly results in pain, stiffness, and inflammation right from one’s neck to the lower back area. Ankylosing spondylitis can also cause pain in the ligaments and tendons.

Breathing problems are quite common as the rib bones fuse and limit the lungs from expanding when breathing. The chronic condition can further aggravate flare-ups associated with inflammation, increasing the risk of heart conditions. Other health complications include uveitis, inflammatory bowel diseases, psoriasis, and chronic problems associated with fatigue.

One must consult with a specialist who is either an orthopedic surgeon or a certified physical therapist to discuss the future course of treatment. Specialists may recommend one or more groupings of the treatments for ankylosing spondylitis.

Medications for ankylosing spondylitis
Medical professionals often prescribe one or a combination of NSAIDs, Corticosteroids, and TNF inhibitors to treat the condition. 

  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
    Inflammation is a major symptom in any form of spondylitis. NSAIDs are available over-the-counter to fight the symptoms of inflammation causing pain and stiffness. However, there are a few side effects of high doses of NSAIDs. These problems affect the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in stomach irritation, heartburn, gastritis, ulcers, and bleeding (in severe cases). Thankfully, a class of NSAIDs known as COX-2 inhibitors reduce the risk of gastrointestinal problems during therapy.
  • Corticosteroids
    Corticosteroids are normally administered through injections directly into the joints of the affected areas. The relief, however, is not long-lasting and there are some side effects when the usage is prolonged. One must consult with a trained professional to determine the dosage and frequency of this short-term pain-relief medication.
  • TNF α Inhibitors
    Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) alpha inhibitors are the first choice when it comes to treating inflammation in the joints of the spinal cord, a complication as a result of an arthritic condition. These inhibitors block the key proteins that cause inflammation, curbing the chain reaction at its source.

Physical activity for ankylosing spondylitis
As this condition causes the joints of the spine to fuse together, regular exercise is the only option to improve one’s posture. This provides relief from the stiffness. Physiotherapists recommend 10 minutes of exercises at frequent intervals to help relieve the compression on the vertebrae. Note that regular exercise is necessary for long-term pain relief combined with medications. Spondylitis also affects one’s posture and forces the spine to hunch forward, resulting in a low and uncomfortable stooping position. Patients suffering from severe forms of spondylitis must combine posture techniques with the exercises recommended by their physical therapist. Regular follow-ups must be done to adjust the schedule of exercises depending on the progress or improvement in the condition.

Diet and nutrition for ankylosing spondylitis
Diet and proper nutrition are necessary to manage a healthy weight, especially for people who are suffering from bone and joint problems. Many foods can trigger changes in the body, which are both beneficial or harmful in subtle ways. A person suffering from spondylitis must exercise caution and keep track of foods that directly affect bone density. Spondylitis also increases the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that causes the bones to weaken and fracture at crucial points, compromising its strength. The diet must mainly comprise foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D. Fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain products will supplement a well-balanced diet. It is equally important to limit alcohol consumption and moderate the intake of foods that are rich in saturated and processed fats.

Complementary treatments
Complementary and alternative treatments feature healthcare systems and practices that include a combination of chiropractic care, acupuncture, yoga, massage, and TENS therapy. The primary focus of these treatments is to provide physical relief from the discomforts caused due to ankylosing spondylitis. 

Acupuncture is an ancient pressure therapy that stimulates the brain and spinal cord’s responses to alleviate the pain. Practitioners insert ultra-thin needles at vital pressure points throughout the body to stimulate the response. Note that acupuncture must be done under careful supervision by trained professionals only.

A simple yoga exercise will further help relieve the discomforts caused due to joint and bone pain. Alternatively, therapeutic massages done regularly will relieve the pressure on the spine caused due to the hunchback position. Although massages only provide temporary relief from the pain, it is an excellent option available for patients.

On the other hand, the TENS therapy is reserved for more severe cases of the arthritic condition. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation relieves pain by sending small electric currents via the skin to the pressure points. The unit is connected to the patient’s skin using multiple electrodes to regulate the flow of the current.

Since there is no cure for this chronic condition, long term treatment is the only source of pain relief. Surgery is reserved only for the most severe cases of spondylitis.

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