Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a form of arthritis that only affects the spinal cord and large joints of the body (1, 10). In some cases, ankylosing spondylitis causes the bones of the spine to fuse together, causing the spine to become rigid. In some people, the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis can be mild to moderate while others may suffer from severe symptoms of this disease (2). Ankylosing spondylitis can cause a stooped-over posture, pain in the joints and pain in the back. There are plenty of misconceptions about ankylosing spondylitis and people often get confused when you try to explain the condition to them. To help you out, we have gathered a list of myths and facts surrounding ankylosing spondylitis.
Myth 1: Ankylosing Spondylitis Only Affects the Back
One of the key distinguishing characteristics of ankylosing spondylitis is that it primarily affects the back or the spine (3). The main symptom of ankylosing spondylitis is inflammation of the joints that are present between your pelvis (known as the sacroiliac joints) and your spine (3). This inflammation can also spread to the remainder of your spinal cord. Stiffness and pain in the lower back are the two most common symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis, particularly in the morning right after getting up (4).
Fact-1- However, the thought that ankylosing spondylitis only affects your back is a misconception. Ankylosing spondylitis is not limited to the back and it can spread to other joints as well, including the ribs, hips, feet (especially the heels), shoulders and knees (5). At least 40% of the time, ankylosing spondylitis affects the eyes during the course of the condition and in some rare cases, it can also cause damage to the heart or the lungs (5, 9).
Thus, ankylosing spondylitis is not just a back problem. It is a chronic inflammatory condition that can affect the entire body.
Myth 2- Ankylosing Spondylitis Only Affects the Elderly
Fact-2- Most people tend to think of arthritis as a condition that happens with natural aging. However, it is very much possible to get ankylosing spondylitis even if you are young (6). In fact, ankylosing spondylitis is rarely diagnosed after the age of 45 years, and is typically diagnosed when a person is between the ages of 15 and 30 years old (6). Thus, ankylosing spondylitis is not at all a condition brought on by natural aging and neither is it caused by anything that you might have done.
Myth 3- Exercising Worsens Ankylosing Spondylitis Symptoms
Fact-3- Anybody’s natural instinct would be to stop doing physical activity if they are experiencing back pain. Avoiding heavy lifting or any other activity that puts a lot of strain on your back is also not recommended.
However, if you have ankylosing spondylitis, then doing the right type of exercise will actually make you feel better, not just at present, but also in the long run (7).
Exercise, in fact, is an important part of your treatment regimen and doing some form of physical activity daily will help you preserve the flexibility of your back. However, before you begin any new exercise routine, it is important that you discuss it with your doctor. Your doctor will recommend which exercises are the best for your ankylosing spondylitis. You should also start with something easy to do and then build up to your routine gradually.
Consulting a physical therapy expert or getting a personal trainer who is familiar with ankylosing spondylitis and how it affects the joints will be a good idea as they can not only show you which exercises you should perform, but they will also train you in a safe and effective manner (7). Once you become comfortable with the exercise routine, you can work out on your own as well.
For ankylosing spondylitis patients, strength training exercises are recommended as these help in building muscles, which are needed in assisting your joints. Stretching and range-of-motion exercises will also help ease the stiffness and improve your flexibility as well (7).
Myth 4: Severe Disability Along with a Fused Back is the Future of Ankylosing Spondylitis
Fact-4: While most people may believe that ankylosing spondylitis will ultimately result in a fused back and cause severe disability, the fact is that ankylosing spondylitis does not progress in the same manner or the same rate in everyone who is suffering from the condition.
Most people with ankylosing spondylitis have periodic episodes or flare-ups of mild to severe inflammation along with back pain and stiffness (8). Repeated bouts of inflammation are what can sometimes lead to the vertebrae fusing together, severely limiting movement and making it nearly impossible to keep the spine straight. Fusion in can also occur in the rib cage, making it difficult to breathe and also reducing the lung capacity.
However, this does not mean that it happens to every patient of ankylosing spondylitis. Many people having ankylosing spondylitis actually suffer from milder symptoms that they are able to manage effectively. Though it may require certain lifestyle or occupational changes, it still does not mean that you will ultimately end up with a fused back or severe disability. Only around one percent of ankylosing spondylitis patients go through a condition known as disease burnout, entering a phase of long-term remission.
Myth 5: Ankylosing Spondylitis is a Rare Condition
Fact-5 Ankylosing Spondylitis is not at all a rare condition. Worldwide, nearly 1 in every 200 adults suffer from ankylosing spondylitis (11). According to data from the Arthritis Foundation, almost half a million Americans in the US are living with ankylosing spondylitis. Ankylosing spondylitis is actually a much more common condition that most people realize.
It is difficult to understand how your ankylosing spondylitis will progress, especially in the long run. However, one thing that is certain is that you will need to be on lifelong disease management. Exercise, proper medical care, and medications are the key to managing ankylosing spondylitis properly. Once you get diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, you should learn all you can about this disease and then consult your doctor to come up with the best treatment plan for your individual condition.
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