What is spondyloarthritis?
Spondyloarthritis is an umbrella term for several chronic inflammatory conditions that are characterized by inflammation in the spine (“spondylitis”) and joints (“arthritis”). Researchers are generally unsure about what causes the group of conditions, but know that they are immune-mediated, which means that they all involve inflammation that likely result from an abnormal response from your immune system.
The types of spondyloarthritis include: ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, enteropathic arthritis, undifferentiated spondyloarthritis, and juvenile spondyloarthritis.
Who is affected?
Anyone can be diagnosed with spondyloarthritis, and ages of diagnosis vary for each type of the condition. Juvenile spondyloarthritis typically produces symptoms before age 16, while ankylosing spondylitis generally starts between ages 20 and 30.  
Researchers are unsure about what causes spondyloarthritis, but the main gene involved in all types is HLA-B27. If you have the gene, you may be more at risk of developing the condition. 
About six percent of the general population has this gene, and a blood test helps you determine whether you have it.  A positive test result means that you have proteins called antigens on your disease-fighting white blood cells, and that you are more at risk of developing spondyloarthritis. But not everybody with HLA-B27 develops the condition.
What happens in your body?
For many people with spondyloarthritis, the first and primary symptom is pain in the lower back and hips, especially after inactivity and in the morning. Pain can occur in other areas as well, and can range from mild to severe.
Common symptoms of spondyloarthritis include:   
- Lower back and buttock pain and stiffnes
- Pain or swelling in the heel or foot
- Pain in your ribcage, such as when you exhal
- Reactive arthritis
- Joint pain and stiffness in knees, ankles, and feet
- Eye inflammation
- Stiffness, pain, and tenderness in one or more joints
- Swollen fingers and toes, which can resemble sausages
- Stiff, sore back
- Full body aches
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- General stiffness of the body
- A history of swelling in the feet and hands
- Pain around the heels or toes, around the knee, and in the lower back
How do I know if I have spondyloarthritis?
It is important to get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible to make sure that the condition does not worsen. The best way to do this is by visiting your doctor and, if possible, getting a referral to visit a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in treating spondyloarthritis.
Some ways that your doctor can assess whether you have the condition is through reviewing your medical history, and conducting a physical examination or lab tests (such as blood tests and imaging tests).
How is it treated?
There is no known cure for spondyloarthritis, but integrative interventions have shown to reduce pain and discomfort and improve quality of life by slowing the condition’s progression and easing the severity of symptoms. 
Integrative interventions offer a holistic approach to treatment. Instead of just conventional medicine, integrative treatments combine conventional medicine with nutritional tools, mind-body medicine, and manual medicine for a holistic approach to treating spondyloarthritis.
For those new to integrative medicine, learn more here
Many people with spondyloarthritis find that certain medications work for them and others do not. So, in order to find an effective conventional treatment, people with spondyloarthritis often work with their doctors to determine which medication works best with their body and needs.
With the right medication, it is possible to manage symptoms and prevent the rapid worsening of the condition. Before starting to take any medication, be sure to ask your doctor about possible side effects. And if you notice any of the side effects once you start your treatment, let your doctor know as soon as possible.
Examples of conventional treatments:
Research shows that gentle, low-intensity mind-body treatments can help spondyloarthritis patients with mobility, mood, decreased pain, and more. There are a wide variety of mind-body treatments for spondyloarthritis, ranging from deep breathing to aqua-therapy.
When living with chronic pain, engaging in regular movement and exercise may feel difficult and unnecessary. But doing so can actually improve your symptoms.
Before starting a physical exercise regimen, consult with your doctor about what might be the best activities for you and your body.
Examples of mind-body medicine:
Tai chi, a mind-body exercise that originated from China, incorporates slow, gentle movements with breathing exercises. Research conducted by the Hartford Hospital found that tai chi brings emotional wellbeing, improved strength, and improved balance to individuals with chronic pain.
Yoga comes in many different styles, often engaging both the body and the mind through controlled breathing and stretching. Researchers have concluded that yoga therapy may help sedentary individuals with arthritis safely increase physical activity, and improve physical and psychological health.
Relaxation therapies like deep breathing techniques, meditation, and biofeedback can help patients ease anxiety and better manage chronic pain. A study demonstrated that mindfulness programs produced significant improvements in anxiety, depression, cognitive psychosocial abilities, and overall functioning.
Manual treatments are administered by certified clinicians, using physical pressure and stimulation on the body to reduce spondyloarthritis symptoms. Treatments can vary in intensity and incorporate other elements such as heat and aromatherapy to enhance relief.
Examples of manual medicine:
Licensed massage therapists use different techniques, like shiatsu, hot stone, and Swedish massage, to provide temporary pain relief. A Mayo Clinic study concluded that massage therapy is particularly helpful for muscle pain, and that it can also help reduce anxiety.
Physical therapy can help with physical strengthening, mobility, and overall functionality. A study conducted by researchers in Sweden found that physical therapy techniques were suitable for addressing musculoskeletal conditions as well as with chronic back pain.
Osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT, is a form of manual therapy used by osteopathic physicians (DOs). A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that osteopathic manual care had similar clinical results to standard medical care, but required fewer medications.
Nutrition plays a crucial role in your overall health, and is a tool you can use to combat joint damage, reduce inflammation, and manage other spondyloarthritis symptoms.
Just like with conventional, mind-body, and manual medicines, there is not one ideal treatment for every spondyloarthritis patient. When selecting nutritional tools to treat your condition, it is best to consult with your doctor or work with a dietitian, naturopath, or nutritionist to find out the best diet for you.
Examples of nutritional tools:
Vegetarian and vegan diets have shown to promote gut health, which may have an anti-inflammatory impact. A study conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine demonstrated that plant based diets improve joint pain, tenderness, and swelling.
While some foods can help reduce symptoms, other foods may trigger them. An elimination diet, which is an eating plan that eliminates certain foods or food groups believed to be causing negative bodily reactions, can help you figure out which foods are triggering those symptoms and bring you closer to your ideal diet.
Fruits and vegetables
Beans (like red, pinto, navy, and black beans) are rich in fiber and protein, and are full of both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
This heart-healthy ingredient contains healthy fat, antioxidants, and oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory compound.
These simple, flavor-rich vegetables are packed with antioxidants and may help reduce inflammation, improve heart health, and help control cholesterol levels.
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The information on this page is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek medical advice from your physician or health provider for your specific needs.