Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ankylosing Spondylitis Treatment by Physiotherapy

By Jonathan Blood Smyth

Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory arthritic disease or spondyloarthropathy, classified with reactive arthritis, bowel disease arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. The underlying relationships between these diseases are complex but they are connected by enthesitis (inflammation of the ligament/bone junctions) and by possession of the HLA B27 gene on white blood cells. The enthesitis process at the joint edges can cause fibrosis and then ossification of the area (bone formation).

The commonest spondyloarthropathy is Ankylosing spondylitis, which occurs as a reflection of the occurrence of the HLA B27 gene in the population. The gene occurs much less commonly near the equator and much more commonly in northern latitudes, and this is also the pattern with the development of AS. White race people are more commonly affected with around 0.1 to 1.0 percent overall, varying with latitude. Only 1 or 2 people of a hundred with the HLA B27 gene actually develop AS, but if they have a close relative who has the condition the likelihood rises to 15 to 20%.

Only one female is diagnosed with AS for every three males, and female patients' symptoms are often much milder and some may be missed as a diagnosis of AS. The most typical presenting group is young men under 40 years old, with under sixteen year olds making up to twenty percent of this group. The symptoms appear on average at twenty-five years of age and the diagnosis is rarely made above fifty years old. AS can look like mechanical back pain if sufficient attention to detail is not made. Strong and persistent stiffness is often an answer to the question of how they are in the morning.

The presentation of Ankylosing spondylitis is similar but different from that of mechanical low back pain due to the inflammatory nature of AS:

Morning back stiffness lasting half an hour and often longer Back pain improved with exercise Back pain worsened with rest Night pain later on in the night Other joints may be affected Fatigue is common Active inflammatory disease can cause systemic affects such as unwellness, weight loss or fever

A significant reduction in the ranges of spinal motion is usually recorded by the physiotherapy examination of an AS patient, with a flattened lumbar curve and an accentuated thoracic kyphosis. Later involvement can include reduced neck ranges of motion and reduced chest excursion from involvement of the rib joints. Peripheral inflammation at insertion sites occurs in about one third of patients, the commonest sites being the insertion of the tendo Achilles on to the calcaneum and the insertion of the plantar ligament in the foot. These areas cope with large mechanical loads which may be why they more commonly occur.

Postural analysis of the AS patient is the first thing a physiotherapist notes after the subjective examination, recording spinal abnormalities, flexed knees, rounded shoulders or poking head posture. The ranges of movement of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine are measured and a battery of standard measures taken which allows assessment of the disease progression. The hips or other peripheral joints may be affected and these need to be measured also, with the physio likely testing out sites where the enthesis is likely to be painful and inflamed. If the disease is active then the patient may also have joint effusions and may appear unwell, be sweating and not have slept well.

Physiotherapy starts with treating active enthesis sites with ice, ultrasound and gentle stretches, with insoles useful in the foot. Routine range of movement exercises for the whole spine and affected joints are taught with concentration on getting to end range at each time. This targets the antigravity movements such as lumbar and thoracic extension, thoracic rotations and neck rotation and retraction. Patients are also taught to rest in good positions to avoid encouraging the typical deformities, such as on a firm mattress with just one pillow, or lying on the front regularly. Hydrotherapy is a very helpful and popular way of maintain joint ranges and patients need to keep up self treatment over the long term.

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