When our backs hurt, we tend to assume that we did some kind of damage. We all know someone with a herniated disc, so it’s natural for that to be the first thing we think of when we start to feel pain ourselves. But for almost three million of us, the problem is actually an autoimmune disease with an impossible-to-pronounce name: ankylosing spondylitis, or AS.
As is true of so many other autoimmunes, AS is a disease in which the immune system gets its message and mission mixed up: it attacks healthy tissue in the lower spine, and the result if pain and stiffness. Unfortunately, those symptoms are so common, and thought of as so benign, that few people pay attention at first.
Eventually, things get worse. The pain persists and moves further up your spine, and that will lead to a diagnosis.
If you suspect that your pain is not caused by muscle soreness or an injury, there are a few things you can look for that might point to ankylosing spondylitis. These include:
- Your pain doesn’t go away – We’ve all gone to the gym and overdone it, or spent too much time in the garden bending down and woken up with a back that stays sore for a few days. But when you have ankylosing spondylitis, the pain is going to stay with you for months, and instead of getting better, it’s a lot more likely to get worse.
- You’re not just hurting … you’re stiff and achy too – Another difference between typical back pain and AS is that people who have it tend to be extremely stiff, especially in the morning, and other parts of their bodies ache – especially their joints. AS sufferers will feel pain in just one ankle, or their jaw, or in their shoulders or fingers.
- You’re incredibly tired – One of the biggest problems with AS is that it is exhausting. Part of the problem is simply that pain is debilitating, and part is that AS interferes with your sleep.
- You get relief from movement – One of the most distinctive features of AS is that people who have it tend to want to move around rather than sit around. That’s because they’ve figured out that movement makes them feel better. It gets their joints looser, where sitting around allows stiffness to set in again.
- Your eyes hurt or are watery – This symptom is often the one that leads doctors to first suspect that a patient has AS. Patients who suffer from inflammation of the spine also may experience it in their eyes, and this presents as pain, watery eyes, sensitivity to light, and blurred vision.
- You have another autoimmune disease – Anybody who is familiar with autoimmune diseases knows all too well that if you have one, it makes you more likely to have another. If you have already been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, pain in your lower spine should quickly be suspected as AS.
As always getting the right treatment and relief starts with getting a correct diagnosis. If you are having any pain in your back, making an appointment with our lumbar spine specialist in New Jersey will set you on a path to diagnosis and feeling better.