Spondylitis: What Causes Inflammation Of The Vertebrae?

What Is Spondylitis?

inflammed vertebrae

Spondylitis is a form of arthritis that affects the spine. It refers specifically to inflammation of the vertebrae, the bones in the spine. The condition is common, affecting more than 200,000 people in the United States each year.


The exact cause of spondylitis is unknown, but the condition is thought to arise or worsen from the following lifestyle factors:

  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • Excessive smoking and alcohol consumption
  • Lack of exercise
  • Improper postures while sitting or standing for a long time


Ankylosing Spondylitis

While spondylitis refers to inflammation of the vertebrae, ankylosing spondylitis is characterized by long-term, progressive inflammation of the vertebrae that is severely debilitating. In the severe and prolonged instance of ankylosing spondylitis, the vertebrae can actually begin to fuse together, reducing mobility in the spine and causing the patient to hunch forward. It can also affect other systems in the body, including the gastrointestinal system and cardiovascular system.


  • Hunched or stooped back
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Back pain and stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Limited range of motion
  • Eye inflammation

spinal inflammation


Your primary care physician may be able to diagnose spondylitis, but will likely refer you to an rheumatologist to confirm the diagnosis and provide treatment. A physical examination can assess pain and limited range of motion, but diagnostic imaging, such as an MRI of the spine can be the most useful tool to confirm spondylitis.


Treating spondylitis typically consists of a combination of anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy. Physical therapy that includes stretching exercises can reduce some of the symptoms of spondylitis. Lifestyle changes such as sleeping on a firm mattress and improving posture can also alleviate some of the symptoms and severity of spondylitis.

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