Patient Education

To help you understand and navigate through your orthopedic health decisions, we have created a patient education section. Please select from one of the categories below to learn more about your condition or procedure.
Spondyloarthritis / Spondyloarthropathy

Spondyloarthritis (SpA), also known as spondyloarthropathy, is a group of inflammatory rheumatic diseases that primarily affect the spine and, in some cases, the joints of the arms and legs. These conditions can also affect the skin, intestines, and eyes. The main types of spondyloarthritis include ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, enteropathic arthritis (associated with inflammatory bowel diseases), and undifferentiated spondyloarthritis.

Common Symptoms

  • Back Pain: Chronic pain, especially in the lower back and buttocks, that improves with exercise and worsens with rest.
  • Joint Pain: Inflammation and pain in the peripheral joints (e.g., knees, ankles, and hips).
  • Stiffness: Morning stiffness and reduced spinal mobility.
  • Enthesitis: Inflammation at the sites where tendons or ligaments attach to bones, commonly at the heel (Achilles tendonitis) or bottom of the foot (plantar fasciitis).
  • Dactylitis: Swelling of an entire finger or toe, giving it a sausage-like appearance.
  • Fatigue: Generalized fatigue and reduced energy levels.
  • Extra-Articular Manifestations: Eye inflammation (uveitis), skin rashes (psoriasis), and gastrointestinal symptoms (inflammatory bowel disease).

Cause & Anatomy

The exact cause of spondyloarthritis is unknown, but a combination of genetic, environmental, and immunological factors is believed to contribute to its development. Key factors include:

  • Genetics: A strong association with the HLA-B27 gene.
  • Immune System: Abnormal immune responses and inflammation.
  • Environmental Triggers: Infections or other environmental factors may trigger the onset in genetically predisposed individuals.

Risk Factors

  • Family History: Having a family member with spondyloarthritis increases the risk.
  • Genetics: Presence of the HLA-B27 gene.
  • Age: Typically begins in late adolescence or early adulthood.
  • Sex: Males are more commonly affected, particularly by ankylosing spondylitis.

Diagnosis

  • Assessment of symptoms, medical history, and physical examination to check for signs of inflammation and joint involvement.
  • X-rays to detect changes in the spine and joints.
  • MRI to identify early inflammatory changes in the spine and sacroiliac joints.
  • Blood tests to check for markers of inflammation (e.g., ESR, CRP) and the presence of the HLA-B27 gene.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Medications

  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): First-line treatment to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs): Medications like sulfasalazine and methotrexate used to manage peripheral arthritis.
  • Biologic Agents: Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors (e.g., etanercept, adalimumab) and interleukin-17 (IL-17) inhibitors (e.g., secukinumab) to reduce inflammation and slow disease progression.
  • Corticosteroids: Used for short-term relief of severe symptoms.

Physical Therapy and Exercise

  • Physical Therapy: Tailored exercise programs to improve flexibility, strength, and posture.
  • Regular Exercise: Low-impact activities like swimming, walking, and stretching to maintain mobility and reduce stiffness.

Lifestyle Modifications

  • Healthy Diet: Balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight and reduce inflammation.
  • Smoking Cessation: Avoid smoking as it can worsen symptoms and disease progression.
  • Posture Management: Techniques to maintain good posture and spinal alignment.

Surgery

Surgery is rarely needed but may be considered for severe joint damage or deformities that impair function. Procedures may include joint replacement or corrective surgery for spinal deformities.

Risks & Complications

  • Chronic Pain: Persistent pain and discomfort.
  • Reduced Mobility: Limited spinal and joint movement.
  • Spinal Fusion: Advanced disease may lead to fusion of the vertebrae, reducing flexibility.
  • Cardiovascular Disease: Increased risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular issues.
  • Eye Inflammation: Recurrent uveitis can lead to vision problems if untreated.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Associated with inflammatory bowel disease in some cases.

Benefits of Treatment

  • Pain Relief: Significant reduction in pain and inflammation.
  • Improved Mobility: Enhanced ability to perform daily activities.
  • Reduced Disease Progression: Slowing or halting the progression of joint and spinal damage.
  • Enhanced Quality of Life: Improved overall well-being and functionality.

FAQ’s

Can spondyloarthritis be cured?
There is no cure, but treatment can effectively manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

How is spondyloarthritis different from rheumatoid arthritis?
Spondyloarthritis primarily affects the spine and sacroiliac joints, whereas rheumatoid arthritis typically involves the peripheral joints symmetrically. Spondyloarthritis is also strongly associated with the HLA-B27 gene.

Is exercise beneficial for spondyloarthritis?
Yes, regular exercise can help reduce pain, improve flexibility and strength, and prevent stiffness.

Can diet affect spondyloarthritis?
While no specific diet cures spondyloarthritis, a healthy, balanced diet can help manage weight and reduce inflammation.

What are the long-term outcomes of spondyloarthritis?
With appropriate treatment, many individuals can manage their symptoms effectively and maintain a good quality of life. However, without treatment, the disease can lead to significant disability and reduced mobility.

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