Ever notice you have feelings of pain and stiffness in your lower back and hips, especially after periods of inactivity? How about neck pain and fatigue? This combination of pain could be an indicator of a more serious and chronic condition, spinal arthritis.
While the name alone is jarring, the condition is very treatable. It’s important though, to completely understand what spinal arthritis is, and get an accurate diagnosis. Let’s start off with a working understanding: spinal arthritis is an inflammatory condition that mainly affects the spine, although other joints may also be affected. The symptoms can be unpredictable: they might get worse, improve, or even stop altogether. The good news: the symptoms that are causing you so much pain and discomfort can be effectively managed.
So what happens when spinal arthritis strikes? Who is most likely to get it…and most importantly, what you can do to ease your symptoms?
A Closer Look Spinal Arthritis
Also known as ankylosing spondylitis, spinal arthritis causes inflammation of the spinal joints (vertebrae) that can lead to severe, chronic pain and discomfort. Because spinal arthritis can sometimes cause the vertebrae to fuse together, patients suffering from spinal arthritis sometimes walk with a noticeable, hunched-over posture.
Spinal arthritis affects men more often than women, with symptoms typically starting in early adulthood. While spinal arthritis has no cure, treatments can ease your symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
The areas most commonly affected by spinal arthritis are:
- Hip and shoulder joints
- The joint between the base of your spine and your pelvis (sacroiliac)
- Vertebrae in your lower back
- Places where your tendons and ligaments attach to bones (entheses), especially in your spine
- Cartilage between your breastbone and ribs
Causes, Complications and Risk Factors of Spinal Arthritis
The origins of spinal arthritis are somewhat mysterious; there is no known, specific cause. However, we know genetics play a role, and people who have a gene called HLA-B27 have a higher risk of developing ankylosing spondylitis.
In cases of severe spinal arthritis, the body’s attempt to heal actually results in a new bone forming. Slowly, this new bone bridges the gap between vertebrae and eventually fuses entire sections together. Those parts of your spine become stiff and inflexible.
Additional complications may include:
- Eye inflammation (uveitis): rapid-onset eye pain, sensitivity to light and blurred vision are hallmarks of uveitis.
- Compression fractures: during the early stages of ankylosing spondylitis, it’s possible your bones may thin causing vertebrae to crumble and making stooped posture more pronounced.
- Heart problems: ankylosing spondylitis can cause an inflamed aorta, enlarging it and distorting the shape of the heart’s aortic valve, which impairs its function.
When Should You Seek Medical Treatment?
If you have low back or buttock pain that came on slowly, gets worse in the morning, or awakens you from your sleep in the second half of the night, it’s wise to consult a medical professional.
In general, you should always see a doctor when symptoms start affecting your daily living. Planning life around your symptoms, putting activities on hold, or sitting on the sidelines due to pain are clear indicators it’s time to make an appointment. Don’t try to navigate your symptoms on your own.
Chiropractic Care for Ankylosing Spondylitis
Chiropractic manipulation often provides excellent relief from the symptoms that are causing you pain and discomfort. (Keep in mind that chiropractic manipulation should be limited to the non-acute inflammatory stage of spinal arthritis, so as not to injure any connective tissue.)
Because chiropractic care focuses on each patient’s individual circumstances and medical history, every treatment plan looks a little different. However, in addition to targeted chiropractic adjustments, exercise is often an integral part of an effective treatment plan for ankylosing spondylitis. Simple activities such as body extensions, range-of-movement, and stretching exercises can produce powerful results for many patients.
Finally, because chiropractic treatment does not include medication, it can be safely combined with other treatments making chiropractic care a treatment of choice for many arthritis patients.