During the physical exam, your health care provider might ask you to bend in different directions to test the range of motion in your spine. Your provider might try to reproduce your pain by pressing on specific portions of your pelvis or by moving your legs into a particular position. You also may be asked to take a deep breath to see if you have difficulty expanding your chest.
X-rays allow doctors to check for changes in joints and bones, also called radiographic axial spondyloarthritis, though the visible signs of ankylosing spondylitis, also called axial spondyloarthritis, might not be evident early in the disease.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to provide more-detailed images of bones and soft tissues. MRI scans can reveal evidence of nonradiographic axial spondyloarthritis earlier in the disease process, but they are much more expensive.
There are no specific lab tests to identify ankylosing spondylitis. Certain blood tests can check for markers of inflammation, but many different health problems can cause inflammation.
Blood can be tested for the HLA-B27 gene. But many people who have the gene don't have ankylosing spondylitis, and people can have the disease without having the HLA-B27 gene.
The goal of treatment is to relieve pain and stiffness and prevent or delay complications and spinal deformity. Ankylosing spondylitis treatment is most successful before the disease causes irreversible damage.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — such as naproxen sodium (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) — are the medicines health care providers most commonly use to treat axial spondyloarthritis and nonradiographic axial spondyloarthritis. These medicines can relieve inflammation, pain and stiffness, but they also might cause gastrointestinal bleeding.
If nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) aren't helpful, your doctor might suggest starting a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blocker or an interleukin-17 (IL-17) inhibitor. These medicines are injected under the skin or through an intravenous line. Another option is a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor. janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors are taken by mouth. These types of medicines can reactivate untreated tuberculosis and make you more prone to infections.
Examples of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers include:
- Adalimumab (Humira).
- Certolizumab pegol (Cimzia).
- Etanercept (Enbrel).
- Golimumab (Simponi).
- Infliximab (Remicade).
interleukin-17 (IL-17) inhibitors used to treat ankylosing spondylitis include secukinumab (Cosentyx) and ixekizumab (Taltz). JAK inhibitors available to treat ankylosing spondylitis include tofacitinib (Xeljanz) and upadacitinib (Rinvoq).
Physical therapy is an important part of treatment and can provide a number of benefits, from pain relief to improved strength and flexibility. A physical therapist can design specific exercises for your needs. To help preserve good posture, you may be taught:
- Range-of-motion and stretching exercises.
- Strengthening exercises for abdominal and back muscles.
- Proper sleeping and walking positions.
Most people with ankylosing spondylitis or nonradiographic axial spondyloarthritis don't need surgery. Surgery may be recommended if you have severe pain or if a hip joint is so damaged that it needs to be replaced.
Lifestyle choices also can help manage ankylosing spondylitis.
- Stay active. Exercise can help ease pain, maintain flexibility and improve your posture.
- Don't smoke. If you smoke, quit. Smoking is generally bad for your health, but it creates additional problems for people with ankylosing spondylitis, including further hampering breathing.
- Practice good posture. Practicing standing straight in front of a mirror can help you avoid some of the problems associated with ankylosing spondylitis.
Coping and support
The course of your condition can change over time, and you might have painful episodes and periods of less pain throughout your life. But most people are able to live productive lives despite a diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis.
You might want to join an online or in-person support group of people with this condition, to share experiences and support.
Preparing for your appointment
You might first bring your symptoms to the attention of your family health care provider. Your provider may refer you to a specialist in inflammatory disorders called a rheumatologist.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
What you can do
Make a list of:
- Your symptoms, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason you made the appointment, and when they began.
- Key personal information, including major stresses, recent life changes and family medical history.
- All medicines, vitamins and other supplements you take and their doses.
- Questions to ask your doctor.
Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you're given.
For ankylosing spondylitis, basic questions to ask your health care team include:
- What's likely causing my symptoms?
- Other than the most likely cause, what are other possible causes for my symptoms?
- What tests do I need?
- Is my condition likely temporary or lifelong?
- What's the best course of action?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach you're suggesting?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there restrictions I need to follow?
- Should I see a specialist?
- Are there brochures or other printed material I can have? What websites do you recommend?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as:
- Where is your pain?
- How severe is your pain?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- What, if anything, seems to worsen or improve your symptoms?
- Have you taken medicines to relieve the pain? What helped most?
Feb 21, 2023
- Ankylosing spondylitis: In-depth. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/ankylosing-spondylitis/advanced. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.
- Goldman L, et al., eds. The spondyloarthropathies. In: Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.
- Kellerman RD, et al. Rheumatology and the musculoskeletal system. In: Conn's Current Therapy 2023. Elsevier; 2023. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Jan. 16, 2023.
- AskMayoExpert. Ankylosing spondylitis. Mayo Clinic; 2021.
- Yu DT, et al. Clinical manifestations of axial spondyloarthritis in adults. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Jan 16, 2023.
- Yu DT, et al. Treatment of axial spondyloarthritis in adults. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Jan. 23, 2023.
- Yu DT, et al. Diagnosis and differential diagnosis of axial spondyloarthritis (ankylosing spondylitis and nonradiographic axial spondyloarthritis) in adults. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Jan. 16, 2023.