Ankylosing Spondylitis: Care Instructions

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Ankylosing spondylitis (say "ang-kill-LOH-sing spawn-duh-LY-tus") is a type of arthritis. It causes pain and stiffness in your neck and back. In some people, it also affects the chest, joints, or eyes.

This problem is different for everyone. You may find that your pain comes and goes. Or maybe you can't move your back or neck very well.

Sometimes the joints in the spine grow together over time. This is called fusion. If this happens, your body may bend forward in a fixed position.

If you do exercises, you will be able to move better and reduce stiffness. Exercises can also help your posture and slow the progress of the disease. You may also want to try physical therapy.

Medicine can also help with pain and stiffness.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take medicines for pain and stiffness exactly as directed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, seem to work best for ankylosing spondylitis. If you can't take NSAIDs, talk to your doctor about other options. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • If your doctor says it is okay, try some exercises to keep your joints moving well.
  • Ask your doctor about other activities and exercise. If your doctor says it is okay, you may want to take yoga or Pilates classes. These can help make your belly, back, and hips strong.
  • You may want to try a cane or walker. These can help reduce pain when you walk.
  • Because people with this condition may be at a higher risk for spinal cord injury, it's important to wear a seat belt every time you drive or ride in a car.
  • Keep good posture. It can help keep your spine straighter. Try to lie on your stomach a few times a day to keep your spine and hips extended. Sleep on a firm mattress. And use a small pillow that supports your neck.
  • Follow your doctor's advice about physical therapy. A physical therapist can move your joints to improve their motion. The therapist can also show you how to stretch your joints. You may also learn exercises to do at home. And you may learn how to use heat or ice to help pain and stiffness.
  • Get regular eye exams. These can check for an eye problem called iritis that may happen with this condition.
  • Do not smoke. People with this condition are at risk for lung infections. And smoking can make it harder to breathe. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms in your arms, legs, chest, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • You lose bladder or bowel control.
  • You have bad eye pain and your eyes are red and sensitive to light.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You are not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.