Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS): Medications Can Maximize Quality of Life

by Judi Ebbert, PhD, MPH, RN Health Writer

What is AS?

AS is a form of arthritis that attacks the sacroiliac joint. AS can cause fusion of the vertebrae and sometimes the ribs. AS is incurable, but treatment advances can control pain and stiffness. The American College of Rheumatology’s treatment goal is to ease symptoms and preserve normal posture, flexibility, and the ability to work and enjoy life.

Group of friends working together.

Who's got your back?

The American College of Rheumatology (ACR), the Spondylitis Association of America (SAA), and the SpondyloArthritis Research and Treatment Network (SPARTAN) are collaborating to advance the array of treatment options for people with AS. They are committed to ensuring the best possible quality of life for all who are diagnosed with AS.

A scientist experiments with new medical treatments.

The widening array of treatment options

Clinical research has added innovative therapies to traditional prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The AS treatment plan should blend medication with appropriate exercise. The patient and provider team should collaborate as partners to formulate an effective treatment strategy.

Over-the-counter pain medication.


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include aspirin, Celebrex, Voltaren, ibuprofen, ketorolac, naproxen and more. NSAIDs work best when combined with exercise and sometimes with another drug. NSAIDs block chemicals produced by the body that cause pain and inflammation. It’s best to take them with food to reduce risk for stomach ulcers.

Medication and syringe.


Corticosteroids, like the cortisone produced by our bodies, reduce inflammation. When medication alone doesn’t provide relief from an inflammatory episode, a doctor may inject corticosteroids into painful joints. Relief is rapid but not long lasting. Corticosteroids can be injected in the sacroiliac, hip, or knee joint, but not the spine.


Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

DMARDs reduce joint damage by blocking inflammation. Traditional DMARDs work by restricting the body’s immune system. Newer DMARDs target specific pathways within immune cells. The traditional DMARD that is most often given for AS is sulfasalazine.


Biologic Agents

Biologic agents block proteins in the inflammatory response. The FDA has approved adalimumab, certolizumab, etanercept, golimumab, and infliximab. The drugs suppress the Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-α) protein and can relieve symptoms when other medications fail. They are given by intravenous infusion or injection.

Surgeons performing a procedure.


In cases of very severe AS, surgery may be advised. Surgery for a person with AS usually is done to replace the hip joint. If the spine is severely curved, which is called kyphosis, surgery can correct the deformity, but it is rarely undertaken because the procedure carries significant risk.

Man looks out over cityscape.

What's on the horizon?

Researchers are seeking genes involved in the development of AS. Further study may yield strategies to prevent inflammatory attacks by one’s own immune system. Innovative AS treatments are being tested in clinical trials. Use the tool to find trials of interest. AS drug trials are opportunities to try promising new therapies.

Woman finds new resources online.

Embrace helpful AS resources!

It’s important to have access to current, reliable information about all aspects of AS, including new developments. The Spondylitis Association of America offers comprehensive information and interactive mechanisms for messaging and support. Connecting with others will expand your network of professionals and friends who truly have your back!

Judi Ebbert, PhD, MPH, RN
Meet Our Writer
Judi Ebbert, PhD, MPH, RN

Judi Ebbert earned her PhD at the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health. She has worked at three NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers and is a writer/editor at Moffitt Cancer Center. Judi has great interest in chronic disease prevention and treatment, and is an advocate for equitable access to care and optimal quality of life for all people. She loves swimming, her dogs and cats, great food, art, humor, and cinematic thrillers. She’s on Twitter @judithebbert.