What Is Ankylosing Spondylitis? Ankylosing Spondylitis Symptoms, Causes & Natural Treatments

What is Ankylosing Spondylitis? Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a condition, primarily found in men, that is classified as an inflammatory disease. The condition can cause the vertebrae in the spine to fuse, making the spine less flexible and can impact a person’s posture. AS is a rare form of arthritis, and a lifelong condition. The disease is not able to be cured, but with the right course of treatment, it’s possible to slow progression and alleviate symptoms. Keep reading to discover ankylosing spondylitis symptoms, ankylosing spondylitis causes, and what ankylosing spondylitis natural treatments may help to manage your pain. 

Ankylosing Spondylitis Symptoms

AS often begins with a person experiencing stiffness and/or pain in their low back and hips. The symptoms tend to get worse after long bouts of inactivity, which is why exercising and remaining active are both parts of a typical treatment plan.

While inflammation can occur in other parts of the body, it’s most common in the following areas:

  • Lower back
  • The base of the spine and pelvis
  • Back of the heel
  • Between the ribs and breastbone
  • Hips
  • Shoulders
  • Feet 
  • Thighs 
  • Hands 

Anywhere on the body where ligaments and tendons attach to the bone, there’s a chance that you’ll start to experience pain or discomfort. In most cases, people will also suffer from fatigue and/or neck pain.

You may have trouble breathing and your joints may swell, too.

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Complications of Ankylosing Spondylitis

AS is known for causing pain and inflammation all over the body. In some cases, when the condition is allowed to progress, a person may suffer from complications that are more serious in nature, such as:

  • Spine issues. In a few cases, sufferers will have the vertebrae in their spines weaken, leading to higher risks of breaking or fracturing. The damage can lead to more significant nerve issues, including loss of reflexes, or loss of bladder and bowel control.
  • Eye issues. Inflammation in the eyes occurs in 40% of cases, causing blurred vision and pain. You may also become sensitive to bright light.
  • Heart issues. The inflammation may cause an enlarging of the aorta, leading to blood leaking back to the heart when it pumps. Since the heart is less efficient, you may experience fatigue and shortness of breath.

Inflammation, often linked to cancer, may cause men to become at risk of developing bone or prostate cancer. Women are at higher risk of developing colon cancer. Blood cancer risks are also increased.

Ankylosing Spondylitis Causes

Unfortunately, doctors are still unsure of the exact ankylosing spondylitis causes. The thought in the medical community is that the condition is hereditary because people that suffer from it tend to have HLA-B27, or a protein caused by a specific gene.

Scientists believe that this protein causes an immune response that begins attacking bacteria in your body and causes the inflammation you experience.

Certain risk factors may increase your risk of AS:

  • Men are more likely than women to suffer from this condition. Women, if they do have it, suffer from a much milder form. Men will experience symptoms earlier on in life, often in early adulthood, and the condition is often much more severe.
  • Most people, some 95%, will have symptoms by the age of 45. Roughly 80% of people that have AS will have symptoms before the age of thirty.

Since back pain is one of the most common complaints among adults, AS will often go undiagnosed. There is, currently, no available testing that will reveal if you have the condition or not. Doctors will have to perform a series of tests to determine if you have AS or something else, including:

  • Physical exam
  • List of symptoms
  • Blood test

Joint damage will show up on an MRI or X-ray in more severe cases when the joint has become damaged.

Ankylosing Spondylitis Natural Treatments

Once diagnosed with AS, you should immediately start treatment. While there’s no cure, there are treatments that can alleviate the pain and inflammation. A few of the treatment options, aside from anti-inflammatory medications, are:

Exercise

Exercise is able to alleviate stiffness and should also include work on the back. The exercise you perform can help support the spine so that you maintain proper posture and don’t start to hunch over.

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist will focus on activities that encourage proper posture as well as stretching of tight muscles that may lead to spine instability.

CBD

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CBD is the focus of many studies involving pain because it has been shown to be effective at treating pain. One study was started in 2019 and aims to determine the efficacy of CBD on AS. CBD has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, which can benefit anyone suffering from arthritis.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that CBD can help to quell the pain associated with AS.

Evidence suggests that CBD, which doesn’t have the psychoactive effects of THC, is able to lower inflammation. Since the condition still lacks significant studies in this area, a person can apply tinctures to areas where inflammation or pain exists, take oral CBD, or use pain-relieving CBD creams.

DMSO

Due to the rarity of AS, there is a lack of studies directly relating to many treatments on patients with the condition. One study on the impact of DMSO on people that suffer from inflammation relating to rheumatoid arthritis showed that DMSO was able to repress inflammation and reduce inflammation caused by autoimmune arthritis.

Applying DMSO to the affected area is the best option and may be able to stop inflammation and pain.

Stretching

Stiffness and pain may be due to a lack of movement as well as tight muscles. Performing stretches is possible with the help of a therapist, or you can take a DIY approach. Stretches should focus on the areas where tightness is most common, including:

  • Trunk
  • Lower back

Add stretching to your daily exercise routine to keep on track and keep muscles loose.

Hot and Cold Therapy

Hot and cold therapy are two easy and often recommended forms of treatment for inflammation and stiffness. When using heat, warm up a water bottle or heating pad and apply it to the impacted area. Be sure that the item is warm but not too hot that it can cause burning.

A warm bath may also help.

Cold presses, whether it be an ice pack or a frozen bag of peas, can be applied to the area to reduce swelling. You'll want to limit the application to 20 minutes or less per application.

Massage

Massage therapy is known for helping with circulation and can relieve pain and stiffness. One study from 2014 looked at the reduction of pain for lower back pain sufferers after they received a deep tissue massage.

The study found that pain levels were lower after the massage.

If the massage is too painful or causes discomfort when performed on the lower back or spine, try light massage techniques or avoid massage completely. 

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a practice that is still being studied, although it has been used in ancient Chinese medicine for centuries. A review of 70 clinical studies found acupuncture to be effective at reducing pain and generally safe. Studies on acupuncture and its ability to reduce AS pain are inconclusive.

Conclusion

Ankylosing Spondylitis is a rare condition, but when it effects a person, it can be very painful and uncomfortable. While there’s no cure, the above treatments options can alleviate the Ankylosing Spondylitis symptoms that you’re experiencing.

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