Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is in the category of less common diseases that you may not know that your chiropractor can treat. Don’t worry, you probably don’t have it. Recently the topic came up and I promised to create a post to provide some basic information on the topic of AS.
First let me cover what it is. AS is an inflammatory disease and can be classified as a type of arthritis. It causes pain in joints and bones, particularly in the spine with the most common complaint being the low back. In the most severe cases it can cause bones to fuse together. It is much less common than your typical osteoarthritis and is also harder to diagnose because of the similarity of its symptoms to so many other conditions. When you walk into a doctor’s office complaining of low back pain, they won’t jump to the conclusion that you have AS.
Your chiropractor can diagnose AS using a combination of your health and family history, blood tests and radiologic tests, but they won’t usually go hunting for this condition. It is more often found after other things are ruled out or discovered incidentally with X-rays for other conditions. This is a sexist disease usually affecting men, but that doesn’t mean that women can’t have it. AS is also not an illness that comes on late in life. It usually makes its self known before the age of 35. The cause of AS is unknown still, but is likely genetic, meaning that it runs in families. As with most diseases whose causes are unknown there is no known cure yet. There are however treatments.
Most medical treatments for AS focus on management of pain and symptoms, but there are some medications that have been found to slow the progress of the disease. Your chiropractor should be able to help you manage or reduce your symptoms as well as slow down the progression of the disease without medication. As always he should also keep in close contact with your other providers that may be treating you, most likely your rheumatologist, and together they should come up with a plan of action specific to you.
The treatment with the best results for AS is improving your range of motion and flexibility with exercise, diet, and joint mobilization. You can do much of it on your own at home with guidance from your provider. Your chiropractor should already be using these tools to treat any low back pain, but they will be even more important if you have AS. Your chiropractor may or may not adjust your spine depending on your condition, but managing your care does not require manipulation if you don’t want it.
In the past some practitioners would recommend not seeing a chiropractor for AS because possible risks were unknown. No studies have found increased risk to people with AS when treated with chiropractic manipulation, and recent research indicated benefits even at the late stages of the disease. While most of the research is focused on finding a cure to AS here’s a link to an excellent case study of improvement with chiropractic management of AS.