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INFLAMMATORY BACK PAIN
Among the many types of inflammatory back pain, Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is one that affects Canadians in their younger years.
It is an autoimmune condition, which means that it happens when your own immune system starts to target your body’s healthy tissues so that they become inflamed. AS is a common cause of inflammatory back pain.
In AS, inflammatory back pain often starts at the bottom of your spine and spreads upwards over time.
Between 150,000 and 300,000 Canadians - many under the age of 40 - are affected by AS. As of now, there is no cure for it. But there are treatments that can help slow down or stop the progression of AS, as well as manage the signs and symptoms of it.
While AS is a disease that affects the back, the problem actually starts in the immune system. For reasons unknown, the immune system attacks healthy cells in your body as if they were foreign cells. This attack can occur in various part of the body, causing inflammation not just in the spine, but in other joints and tissues too.
Early detection is key! There is no cure for AS; but if it is identified and treated early, severe damage may be avoided.
Who is most affected by Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS)?
- People of Western European descent, along with those from Inuit, Sami, and certain North American tribes on the Pacific Coast, may have a higher risk of developing AS.
- Younger people (in their teens and early 20’s) are more susceptible; it is rare for AS to begin past
- Family history plays a part (90% of people with AS have a gene called HLA-B27)
In the past, AS was considered a “man’s disease.” However, women can get AS too. The ratio of men to women suffering from AS is still being studied.
Having something like AS was not top of mind...
“I felt such discomfort, I was so stiff at night that I couldn’t sleep. I had to get up and take a hot bath – I even slept sitting upright for three months. I went from chiropractor to physiotherapist and back again, never taking the time to educate myself about what could be going on. I simply felt I was too young to have anything other than a really bad case of mechanical back pain.”
- Mark, Windsor, Ontario
When AS is identified early, the appropriate treatment can help slow or prevent long-term damage from happening.
I wouldn’t necessarily have come up with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) right off the bat.
"I didn’t even know it could manifest in ways other than lower back pain, even after I was diagnosed. But because of my long journey, I’d say, get it looked at right away. If your doctor can’t help you then go see a specialist. If you’re honest with yourself, it becomes obvious that it’s gone beyond a casual injury like you’d get running."
- Geri, Waterloo, Ontario
What causes Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS)?
While no one knows for certain, it appears that people who carry a specific gene may be more at risk of developing AS. 90% of people with AS are positive for the gene called HLA-B27, but most people with this gene never get AS.
You might be more likely to get AS if you:
- Test positive for HLA-B27
- Have a family history of AS
- Have Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Psoriasis
- Experience recurrent uveitis
Early intervention can make a difference!
Talk to your doctor if you feel you could be at risk for AS.
“Identifying inflammatory back pain as early as possible is important. It helps us minimize the impact the IBP will have on the patient, and find appropriate ways to improve the patient’s condition.”
– Dr. Vale, GP, Toronto, Ontario
Outlook – How can Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) affect someone over the long term?
AS affects different people in different ways. No two people will have the exact same symptoms or long-term outlook.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- AS is a chronic condition that can get worse over time. Without treatment, there can be permanent damage.
- There is a potential for severe pain and even deformity: the bones of the spine can fuse or grow in abnormal ways and mobility can become very difficult.
What can be done?
Early detection and treatment can make a big difference! If you think you could be at risk of having AS, talk to your doctor right away.
Emotional and mental stress: the hidden impact of AS
Given the huge impact that back pain can have on one’s life, it should come as no surprise that many people who suffer from chronic back pain also experience emotional and mental pain. Depression, anxiety, and fear are common.
Debilitating, chronic back pain can make it difficult to carry out daily tasks, get a good night’s sleep, or commit to socializing with friends and family.
But something can be done:
Share your concerns with your doctor, so that they can help you tackle the stress by finding ways to manage it effectively.
Anxiety and stress can exacerbate your physical pain. It’s important to find ways to manage it.
Not letting AS take away my passion for running
“I spent time in a wheelchair because of my AS – and as a runner of 15 years, it was devastating. I felt as though my legs had been taken away. But now, with the help of my medications and other treatments, I am happy to say that I’m able to run ultra marathons and teach. I am feeling 400 times better than I did 9 years ago!”
- Deborah, Squamish, British Columbia *
* Actual patient. May not be representative of all patients
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