Skip to content

    Arthritis Health Center

    Beyond the Back

    Font Size
    WebMD Feature
    Reviewed by David Zelman, MD

    Most people with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) know about back pain. But other areas of your body can swell and hurt, too.

    That’s what happened to 23-year-old Stefanie Gomez. When she was 15 -- before she ever had back pain -- the joints in her toe, ankle, and knee swelled up. They became red, warm, and painful.

    Recommended Related to Arthritis

    Scleroderma Diagnosis and Treatment

    If you think you have scleroderma, tell your doctor what symptoms you've noticed. In order to make a diagnosis, he'll ask you about your family's health history, look for changes in how thick your skin is, and do some tests. He may look at your finger under a microscope to check for changes in tiny blood vessels. These start to vanish early on in scleroderma. He’ll likely take a blood sample and send it to the lab to see if your immune system is in overdrive. Your doctor may also take a small...

    Read the Scleroderma Diagnosis and Treatment article > >

    It’s pretty common for AS to first show up in places other than your spine. That’s especially true for people who are younger than 16.

    It wasn’t long before Gomez, now a social worker in San Francisco, had problems in her sacroiliac (SI) joints. Those are the places where your spine meets your pelvis. Everyone with AS has inflammation in at least one of their SI joints.

    Since then, Gomez has had painful flares in her hip about twice a month. “Sometimes I’m late for work because of a flare-up, or I avoid seeing friends because I know I’ll be in pain,” she says.

    Gomez’s main triggers are cold weather, stress, and poor eating.

    “At the first sign of stiffness, I get in the shower and the pressure of the water helps me get back to moving,” she says.

    Ankylosing Spondylitis Is an All-Over Problem

    “This is a systemic disease that affects the whole body,” says Lianne Gensler, MD. She's the director of the Ankylosing Spondylitis Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco. So don’t be surprised when other areas of your body become affected, she says.

    Here’s how many people with AS get symptoms beyond their SI joint:

    • Middle to upper back: 50%-70%
    • Neck: 75%
    • Eyes: 40%
    • Heel or shoulders: 30%
    • Knees: 20%
    • Wrist, toes, or fingers: 5%

    Having symptoms in places other than your back can mean that you have a more serious form of the disease. Knowing how to spot the signs can help you get treatment sooner and hopefully prevent further damage.

    1 | 2 | 3
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    Mature woman exercise at home
    Hint: Warming up first is crucial.
    feet with gout
    Quiz yourself.
    woman in pain
    One idea? Eat fish to curb inflammation.
    senior couple walking
    Can you keep your RA from progressing?
    xray of knees with osteoarthritis
    close up of man wearing dress shoes
    feet with gout
    close up of red shoe in shoebox
    two male hands
    Woman massaging her neck
    5 Lupus Risk Factors