Spondyloarthritis: Symptoms, Treatments, and Exercise Tips

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spondyloarthritisA group of inflammatory diseases known as spondyloarthritis can have devastating effects on the spine, extremities, shoulders, and hips. With differing symptoms from those of arthritis, these conditions seem to target males, with some cases found in young females. We look at these symptoms, as well as spondyloarthritis treatment options including specialized exercises.

This type of arthritis tends to primarily affect the spine, with bouts attacking the joints in the arms and legs. Spondyloarthritis can also affect the eyes, intestines, and skin. We can determine the differences within the group by the region affected.

What Is Spondyloarthritis?

To understand what spondyloarthritis is, we need to break down the term. Spondylo refers to the spine and arthritis is a joint disease. The term is used to cover a wide range of arthritis conditions of the spine, which all share symptoms of inflammation and pain.

It can also involve the joints of the shoulders, hips, arms, and legs. Another form of spondyloarthritis can result in deformities of the spine, and improper functioning of the shoulders and hips due to bone destruction.

There are several spondylitis types of arthritic conditions under the spondyloarthritis category. Each has its own symptoms relating to the location on the body.

1. Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing Spondylitis is referred to as AS and deals with the inflammation found in the spine or pelvic region. Localized back pain can be alleviated with movement since it begins as stiffness in the back, hips, shoulders, and even the heels upon awakening. It can lead to the spine fusing as new bones form, known as ankylosis.

2. Enteropathic Arthritis

Inflammation of the intestine and bowel are part of this condition known as EnA. This condition is in addition to the inflamed spine or joint pain, and weight loss, chronic diarrhea, or blood in the stool may accompany it. This condition may result in illnesses such as Crohn’s Disease, undifferentiated colitis, and ulcerative colitis.

3. Juvenile Arthritis

Originating in childhood, JSpA results in pain in lower extremities such as the pelvis, ankles, knees, and hips. It may mimic other spondyloarthritis conditions, but it does stand out with inflammation at the connection spot of the bone and tendons or ligaments, known as enthesitis. Fatigue can also be a major symptom.

4. Psoriatic Arthritis

In close association with the psoriasis rash, PsA results in typical swelling and pain, along with the skin rash in most cases. Spine stiffness and neck pain are prevalent, in addition to major swelling of the fingers or toes.

5. Reactive Arthritis

ReA extends beyond joint inflammation as it involves the urinary tract or intestines with inflammation and pain in the bladder, mucous membranes, genitals, eyes, spine, and the skin’s surface. Thankfully, this usually lasts from three to 12 months at a time, but can reoccur and lead to chronic arthritis.

6. Undifferentiated Arthritis

All other related spondyloarthritis conditions fall under the category of USpA. This condition will have similar symptoms, but not specific enough for any of the other groups discussed.

There are two recent developments within the spondyloarthritis group, and they are called axial spondyloarthritis and peripheral spondyloarthritis. Some cases involve both classifications, while most are one or the other. Axial refers to the inflammation of the spine, whereas peripheral indicates inflamed tendons and joints not located in the spine or pelvic region.

Spondyloarthritis Symptoms

So, what are the symptoms of spondyloarthritis? Each form and classification group of this condition its own symptoms.

All cases can share the following in one way or another:

  • Inflammation
  • Severe back pain
  • Stiffness
  • Tender skin surface
  • Pain in the eye region
  • Eye redness
  • Skin rash
  • Pain in the buttocks
  • Digestive issues
  • Swelling of the digits
  • Extreme heel pain
  • Fatigue

Spondyloarthritis Causes

Research has found that there may be a genetic link to spondyloarthritis conditions as there are at least 30 genes responsible for ankylosing spondylitis. The gene is called HLA-B27, and it is usually found in Caucasian people with spondyloarthritis. Anyone with this gene also has enteropathic arthritis.

Since there are other conditions involved with spondyloarthritis, some cases may have a link to the harmful bacteria that damage the bowel.

Who Is at Risk?

Since the cause behind some cases has yet to be determined, it is difficult to pinpoint why someone contracts it.

Those people at a higher risk may include:

  • A family history of the condition
  • Descendants of an Alaskan, Scandinavian Lapps, or Siberian Eskimo heritage
  • Positive testing of the HLA-B27 gene
  • Recurring stomach bacterial infections
  • A diagnosis of an inflammatory health condition

Spondyloarthritis Diagnosis

As with most conditions, diagnosis begins with a review of the patient’s medical history and a physical examination. The affected area will be sore to the touch.

The next step is to confirm the diagnosis with the use of radiographic scans of the joints, such as x-rays, computerized tomography, or possibly a magnetic resonance imaging. These tests will confirm any inflammation of the sacroiliac joints in the region where the pelvis and spine meet.

A blood test may also help to identify if the patient has the HLA-B27 gene. However, other tests need to be included, as not all gene carriers develop spondyloarthritis.

Spondyloarthritis Treatment

Medical treatments directly target the symptoms with the use of pain relievers and corticosteroids for the swelling of the joints. Cases of reactive arthritis usually are treated with antibiotics, whereas more severe cases may require disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs to protect joints while combating symptoms.

TNF-alpha inhibitors have worked for symptoms of spinal and peripheral joint conditions. However, extreme joint and bone deformities may require surgery.

Physical therapy and specialized exercises along with lifestyle changes may be able to enhance successful treatment and pain management.

Lifestyle Changes for Spondyloarthritis

We are encouraged to live a healthy lifestyle to maintain overall good health. Without a spondyloarthritis cure, symptoms may not be completely alleviated but may be able to be managed with a few changes.

These lifestyle changes can include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Physical therapy exercises
  • Daily stretching
  • Smoking less or quitting altogether
  • Using good posture

Spondyloarthritis Exercises

By using carefully planned stretches and exercise routines, you may be able to treat symptoms and prevent frequent recurrences.

1. Flexibility Exercises

Flexibility exercises involve stretching exercises that can help improve mobility and flexibility from stiffness and pain. Try to introduce yoga poses into your routine.

2. Muscle-Strengthening Exercises

Using weights and similar equipment will help strengthen the muscles, which is essential to relieve pressure from joints. Begin any strength training with the lightest weight, and work up to heavier weights over time.

3. Fitness Workout

Maintaining an active lifestyle to achieve fitness, both on the inside and out, will help prevent damaging the joints. Create a fitness routine with brisk walks, swimming, cycling, boxing, or Pilates.

Spondyloarthritis may raise alarms with the variety of conditions affecting the spine and joints of the arm and legs. While many cases are not preventable due to a heredity gene, there may be treatments for some of the conditions. Medical treatments are an option for some people, and severe cases may require surgery such as hip joint replacement.

Spondyloarthritis can be part of a productive lifestyle with a healthy spondyloarthritis diet, treatment plan, and dedication to daily stretches and a workout routine for the muscles. You can also take advantage of a support group to help cope with the emotional and mental challenges of living with spondyloarthritis.

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