Most of the time, we perceive arthritis as the condition that causes our joints to feel stiff and achy. For some people, the inflammation of arthritis presents symptoms such as a burning sensation up the spine. We refer to this as ankylosing spondylitis. Because this arthritic condition usually first affects the lumbar spine, and because painful sensations are intermittent rather than constant, ankylosing spondylosis usually spreads upwards in the spinal column before it is diagnosed and treated.
Recognizing the Signs
Early indications of ankylosing spondylitis are so mild they can easily be misconstrued for something else. These include back pain and stiffness. What sets symptoms of this condition apart from other potential spine conditions is that pain is more of a burning, and it tends to feel worse with rest, rather than better. As inflammation worsens, additional symptoms may be noticed. These include:
- A general sense of fatigue.
- Painful joints in other parts of the body, such as the hips or the knees.
- Light sensitivity during flare-ups of back pain.
- Chest pain. This is related to inflammation in the cartilage between the ribs and breastbone.
Does Ankylosing Spondylitis Require Surgery?
Fortunately, relatively few cases of ankylosing spondylosis get to the point of needing surgical intervention these days. That is because medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle strategies have been developed through the years to minimize the effects of this condition. We consider the value of surgery when symptoms have reached the neck, and have caused moderate to severe side effects, such as a severe forward-hunch of the head.
Surgical procedures that may be considered for ankylosing spondylosis include:
- The objective of this procedure is to release compression on affected nerves. This is achieved through the elimination of the bony arch of the back of one of the vertebrae of the spine, called the lamina.
- Spinal fusion. The objective of spinal fusion is to increase stability in the spinal column. This is achieved by fusing two or more adjoining vertebrae together.
- Spinal osteotomy. This procedure, performed in conjunction with spinal fusion, may be necessary if deformity has occurred.