Quickly: Think of a joint in your body. You probably thought of your knee or shoulder—but there are joints along your spine too. And just like the other joints in your body, these spinal joints are susceptible to the pain and inflammation of arthritis.

The first symptom of ankylosing spondylitis is often—but not always—pain in the spinal joints. Watch: Ankylosing Spondylitis Video

How does ankylosing spondylitis affect the joints your spine?

Ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis, causes inflammation of the tendons and ligaments that attach to your spine. This chronic inflammation can eventually lead to sections of the spine stiffening and fusing together.

See What Is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Your spine was designed to be mobile at each segment, and any limitations in this motion can cause back pain and other issues, possibly including neurological symptoms and even fractures.

Ankylosing spondylitis can also appear in your knee and shoulder joints, and it can affect other areas of your body such as the eyes. The hallmark symptoms of this condition, however, are typically seen in the spine.

People who have been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis often wish they had been diagnosed sooner. Read on to learn about some symptoms of this condition that many people don't know about.

See Ankylosing Spondylitis Diagnosis


Little-known symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis

Because ankylosing spondylitis can be difficult to diagnose, it helps to know some of the lesser-known symptoms that set this condition apart from other forms of back pain and arthritis:

  1. Pain can increase with inactivity.
    Unlike many other back pain conditions, ankylosing spondylitis is unique in that periods of rest will often increase pain and worsen symptoms. Those with the condition may wake up in the morning with hip or back pain and/or stiffness that feels better after getting up to take a shower or some light exercise.
  2. Symptoms come and go.
    Initially, often for months, the symptoms may come and go. Most often these symptoms include unexplained pain in the buttocks and/or back of your hips. Overall, the symptoms are usually characterized by gradual onset, meaning that the symptoms develop and increase over a long period of time, but on any given day or week they may come and go.
  3. Rib joint pain.
    Ankylosing spondylitis can affect the joints in the mid portion of the spine (called the thoracic spine), where the ribs connect to the vertebrae. These are called the costotransverse and costovertebral joints. The pain from inflammation in these joints can be felt in the chest wall and possibly into the abdomen.

See a full list of ankylosing spondylitis symptoms.

Over time, untreated ankylosing spondylitis can lead to spine deformities, stiffness, and chronic pain. The good news is that early diagnosis and a comprehensive treatment plan can usually go a long way in helping manage the symptoms and staying active.

See Ankylosing Spondylitis Treatment

Learn more:

5 Unusual Ankylosing Spondylitis Symptoms

Development and Progression of Ankylosing Spondylitis

Dr. David DeWitt is an orthopedic surgeon practicing at the NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin, where he specializes in spine surgery. He has more than 15 years of experience evaluating and treating spine diseases and trauma. Dr. DeWitt participates in orthopedic spine research.