6 Types of Spondylitis [+Symptoms & Treatments]

6 Types of Spondylitis: What You Need to Know

The Clearing Team
The Clearing Team

Spondylitis, also known as spondyloarthritis or SpA, is a term describing several types of arthritis. All types of SpA are related to joint inflammation, but some types cause other symptoms, too. 

If you’ve been diagnosed with any type of SpA, you may be looking for relief. You may also want answers for symptoms that lack a clear diagnosis, but which you suspect are SpA-related. 

We’ll cover the causes, symptoms and treatment of the six most common types of SpA, plus ways you can get a diagnosis and relief. 

The 6 most common types of spondylitis 

  • Ankylosing spondylitis 
  • Psoriatic arthritis 
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Undifferentiated spondylitis 
  • Juvenile spondylitis
  • Enteropathic arthritis 

Types of SpA used to be distinguished by very specific symptoms. Within the past decade, doctors began to classify SpA more broadly as “axial SpA” or “peripheral SpA.” Axial SpA is an umbrella term for arthritis that affects the spine where the main symptom is back pain. 

Peripheral SpA is a broad category for arthritis that impacts your peripheral joints and tendons more than your spine. The traditional system and these newer, more general terms can both be useful for understanding your symptoms and diagnosis.

Each case of SpA has its own unique symptoms. Symptoms most types share in common include: 

  • Lower back stiffness, especially in the early morning or before bed 
  • Joint pain and stiffness that seems to improve with exercise, but gets worse when you rest 
  • Joints that feel warm or swollen 
  • Loss of motion, or difficulty doing tasks you used to do easily  
  • Feeling fatigued

1. Ankylosing spondylitis 

Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic form of arthritis that causes spinal inflammation. This can make it hard to move your back, especially when you wake up.

People may notice flare-ups of mild back pain and stiffness. These can occur as early as the late teens to early twenties, with most people experiencing back pain before the age of 45

As the condition progresses, you may also feel pain in your hips and ribs, as well as the joints in your ankles and feet. When ankylosing spondylitis is left untreated, the bones in your spine may start fusing together. 

Ankylosing spondylitis treatment focuses on slowing the condition’s progression. Your doctor may first recommend pain medication and physical therapy. Simple adjustments to how you hold your spine as you move through your day can help manage flare-ups, so a corrective brace could be helpful. You may also work with a nutritionist or dietician to consider your diet. Low inflammation diets or diets low in processed food could support your treatment.

2. Psoriatic arthritis 

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition. Its main sign is a scaly rash in patches over the body. Another symptom can be psoriatic arthritis, a type of SpA that causes joint swelling and pain. The causes of psoriasis are mostly unknown, but researchers believe there is a genetic component. 

Most people notice psoriasis symptoms before arthritis develops. In some cases, however, joint pain happens first. Psoriatic arthritis is typically diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 50. Pain can impact the joints in your hands, feet, and knees. It can also affect the joints where your hips connect with your lower spine.

The aim of psoriatic arthritis treatment is to slow the progression of your symptoms while protecting your joints. Your doctor may recommend prescription-strength medication. You may also be interested in lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and identifying triggers in your diet. 

3. Reactive arthritis 

Reactive arthritis is joint inflammation linked to an infection taking place elsewhere in your body. In addition to your joints, this type of arthritis can cause swelling and pain in your bladder and genital area as well as your mucus membranes and eyes. You may also have mouth sores, skin rashes, a fever and other signs of infection. 

Certain types of bacteria cause this inflammatory reaction. Food poisoning, dysentery, and chlamydia can all lead to reactive arthritis. Getting rid of the bacterial infection is the focus of treatment for this type of SpA. Note that doctors don’t believe reactive arthritis is necessarily a symptom of your infection, even if the infection was indeed the initial cause. 

It can take a while for your body to fully recover from the infection that caused reactive arthritis. Once you clear the infection, your pain and inflammation will likely fade, even if it takes a few months. In some cases, however, reactive arthritis can turn into a long-term chronic condition. 

4. Undifferentiated spondyloarthritis 

Undifferentiated arthritis is a term doctors use to describe SpA symptoms that don’t fit the criteria for a specific diagnosis.. 

Sometimes a specialist will give you this diagnosis as a placeholder while you wait to see if other symptoms appear. Undifferentiated spondyloarthritis often develops into ankylosing spondyloarthritis within ten years or less. If other SpA-related conditions develop, such as ulcerative colitis or psoriasis, your diagnosis may be updated. 

The cloud of uncertainty that surrounds an undifferentiated SpA diagnosis can make treatment a challenge. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no treatment available at all. Undifferentiated spondyloarthritis may be treated with pain management strategies, such as prescription medication or physical therapy. 

5. Juvenile spondyloarthritis 

Juvenile spondyloarthritis is a group of arthritis conditions whose symptoms start before the age of 16. Symptoms typically include pain and inflammation in the joints of the lower body, including the pelvis, knee joints and ankles. Pain may flare up for several weeks before vanishing for months at a time. 

Some children and young adults who are diagnosed with juvenile spondyloarthritis will only experience symptoms for a few months or years. For others, it develops into a lifelong condition. Spinal inflammation, in particular, can cause permanent damage if left untreated. 

Getting a diagnosis for juvenile SpA can be particularly tough. Many people, even doctors, assume that a child with ongoing joint pain and swelling is too young to have arthritis. So they can believe the symptoms must be caused by something else. Treatment for SpA in young people typically includes physical therapy, prescription medication and medical appointments to monitor the condition’s progression. 

6. Enteropathic arthritis 

Enteropathic arthritis is a form of SpA associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It’s a chronic, lifelong condition linked to lower back pain as well as pain and inflammation in the limbs. About one in five people with IBD will have symptoms of enteropathic arthritis. Sometimes the symptoms of arthritis even show up before the symptoms of IBD. 

The link between arthritis symptoms and IBD conditions (such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) is complicated. When your IBD symptoms flare up, it’s likely that your arthritis symptoms will flare up, too. That’s why treating enteropathic arthritis mostly focuses on treating IBD symptoms. Treatments can include prescription medications as well as dietary changes. 

How is spondylitis diagnosed? 

No matter what kind of SpA you have, the symptoms tend to worsen over time if you aren’t being treated. The first step toward slowing or stopping your symptoms is getting an official diagnosis. 

SpA symptoms may develop slowly, gradually becoming more of a factor in your daily activities. If you have an underlying condition such as Crohn’s disease or psoriasis, SpA may be easier to spot. A genetic history of SpA in your family may also be a strong indicator. 

There’s no definitive test to identify and classify SpA. Your primary care doctor may refer you to a doctor who specializes in inflammatory conditions and arthritis, called a rheumatologist. You may have a blood test done to identify biomarkers of inflammation. X-rays and other imaging tools can check your spine and pelvis for signs of bone fusion. 

How can Clearing help with spondylitis? 

Whatever your SpA diagnosis — or even if you don’t yet have an official diagnosis at all — Clearing might be able to help. Clearing offers a tailored approach to your pain by giving you a suite of complementary products and services. This can include nutraceuticals, a prescription compound cream, CBD cream, targeted exercises, health coaching and access to pain specialists who can guide you toward better pain management.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your individual needs and medical conditions.