When lower back pain strikes teens and young adults, it’s usually because they pulled a muscle or started a new athletic activity. But if you’re younger than 30 and you have nagging back pain and stiffness that doesn’t improve, you could have ankylosing spondylitis.

Ankylosing spondylitis can’t be cured, but with expert treatment from Behnam Khaleghi, MD, at Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center, you can slow or stop the progressive inflammation and spine damage.

Here, we describe the condition and explain the currently known risk factors for developing ankylosing spondylitis.

About ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of inflammatory arthritis that begins in the spinal joints connecting your vertebrae (called facet joints) and sacroiliac joints (the joints that attach the base of your spine to your hips).

An estimated 80% of people with ankylosing spondylitis develop their first symptoms before they reach the age of 30, experiencing problems, such as:

  • Lower back pain
  • Back stiffness
  • Buttock pain
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen joints

Without treatment, the disease progresses up your spine and may spread to other joints, including your ribs, shoulders, and knees.

Chronic spinal inflammation triggers new bone growth, a serious complication that can fuse the vertebrae together. If that happens, you lose spinal movement, and in some cases, it could interfere with your ability to breathe.

Ankylosing spondylitis also leads to inflammatory problems outside your joints, causing symptoms that seem unrelated to your spine condition.

Nearly one-third of those with ankylosing spondylitis develop eye inflammation, resulting in eye pain and sensitivity to light. Many people have inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.

It’s also common to develop inflammation where ligaments and tendons connect with your bones. For example, you may have heel pain due to inflammation in the Achilles tendon where it meets your heel.

Risk factors for ankylosing spondylitis

The top five risk factors for ankylosing spondylitis include:

Young age

As we already mentioned, ankylosing spondylitis appears at a young age. Symptoms typically begin between the ages of 15 to 30. The condition can also affect children.

Gender at birth

Ankylosing spondylitis is two to three times more common in men than women.


Most people diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis share a genetic variation called HLA-B27. However, having the HLA-B27 variation doesn’t guarantee you’ll end up with the disease because environmental factors also influence genetic behavior. There are also other genetic variations associated with ankylosing spondylitis.

Family history

If others in your family have ankylosing spondylitis, your risk may be higher whether or not you have a genetic variation. However, your risk definitely increases if you have a family history and the HLA-B27 variation.

Imbalanced gut bacteria

Some evidence suggests that an imbalance in several types of bacteria living in your gut may contribute to ankylosing spondylitis. There may also be a connection between the HLA-B27 gene and the gut bacteria imbalances associated with ankylosing spondylitis. But the experts are still researching this risk factor.

Treatment for ankylosing spondylitis

Seeking early treatment gives you a better chance of preventing the disease from progressing to cause complications like fused vertebrae. We offer comprehensive care for ankylosing spondylitis, working with you to create an individualized treatment plan based on your symptoms.

In addition to a range of medications that reduce inflammation, relieve your symptoms, and slow or stop disease progression, we recommend lifestyle modifications that help you overcome the disease and maintain optimal health and well-being.

Don’t wait to get an evaluation for ongoing back pain and stiffness. Call Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center or use online booking to schedule an evaluation and receive exceptional medical care for ankylosing spondylitis.

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