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Ankylosing Spondylitis - Treatment Overview

Treatment for ankylosing spondylitis focuses on relieving pain and stiffness, reducing inflammation, keeping the condition from getting worse, and enabling you to continue daily activities. Early diagnosis and treatment may reduce pain, stiffness, inflammation, and deformity.

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment approach for your condition. A consultation with a rheumatologist is often recommended, especially to confirm the diagnosis and lay out a treatment plan. Your family medicine physician or internist can treat mild cases. Or you may be referred to a rheumatologist, orthopedist, or physiatrist.

Initial treatment

Initial treatment for ankylosing spondylitis may include:

  • Education, so you know what you can expect as ankylosing spondylitis progresses and how you can minimize problems that can be caused by your condition.
  • Flexibility and strengthening exercises slideshow.gif, to maintain mobility and control pain. People who exercise regularly find they have less pain and stiffness than those who are less active.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), to relieve pain and stiffness, reduce inflammation, and help with physical therapy. Some people seem to get more benefit from daily NSAIDs than from taking NSAIDs just when they notice symptoms. Talk to your doctor about using NSAIDs for ankylosing spondylitis, including how much to take and how often to take it.
  • Physical therapy, to help you keep proper posture, and deep breathing exercises, to enhance your lung capacity. A physical therapist can also help you learn to use heat and cold to help control your pain and stiffness. Heat can help with relaxation and pain relief, and cold can help reduce inflammation.
  • Assistive devices such as canes or walkers, which allow you to be physically active while reducing stress on joints.
  • Alternative therapies such as yoga or acupuncture, which may help relieve pain and improve quality of life.

Talking with your doctor about your job. A job that is physically demanding—such as a job that requires lots of heavy lifting—could increase your symptoms.

Ongoing treatment

If initial treatment does not sufficiently reduce the pain and inflammation linked with ankylosing spondylitis, and as your condition progresses, ongoing treatment may include:

  • Flexibility and strengthening exercises slideshow.gif, to maintain mobility and control pain. People who exercise regularly find they have less pain and stiffness than those who are less active. In addition to general flexibility and strengthening, walking and swimming are good activities for people who have ankylosing spondylitis. Some people continue to participate in sports also. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about activities that will help you and that you will enjoy.
  • Medicine. Doctors usually will first recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and inflammation. But you may need other, stronger medicines. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Corticosteroids, which are similar to natural hormones produced in the body, help reduce inflammation. Corticosteroids are typically used for joints such as the hips, not for the joints of the spine.
    • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as sulfasalazine and possibly methotrexate may help relieve pain in joints other than the spine and pelvis.
    • Drugs known as "biologic agents" or "anti-TNF alpha" drugs reduce inflammation by blocking a protein called tumor necrotizing factor (TNF), which causes inflammation.
  • Physical therapy, to help you keep good posture, and deep breathing exercises, to enhance your lung capacity. A physical therapist can also help you learn to use heat and cold to help control your pain and stiffness. Heat can help with relaxation and pain relief, and cold can help reduce inflammation.
  • Assistive devices such as canes or walkers, which allow you to maintain physical activity while reducing stress on joints.
  • Alternative therapies such as yoga or acupuncture, which may help relieve pain and improve quality of life.

Your doctor will treat complications of ankylosing spondylitis as they occur. For example, iritis may be treated with medicines that can help reduce inflammation of the eye, such as corticosteroids and mydriatic eyedrops.

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