Answer 5 quick questions in the Symptom Checker to help find out if your back pain could be due to inflammation.
Inflammatory back pain affects up to 3% of people.1,2 This kind of back pain is often mistaken for mechanical back pain. There are several conditions that can cause inflammatory back pain, some of which are difficult to diagnose. Fortunately, in the last 10 years, scientific advances have made it easier for doctors to identify some of these conditions, to manage and treat them.3
Inflammatory back pain can impact your life in many ways. It is important to work with your doctor to find out whether your pain is inflammatory because this can impact how the pain is managed in the future. Early diagnosis is also important as some causes of back pain may become worse over time. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist.
Although you may find that exercise or medicines purchased from your pharmacy may ease some of your symptoms, it is still important that you go to your doctor to be diagnosed properly.
Inflammatory back pain can have certain features that distinguish it from other types of back pain, specifically mechanical back pain. These features include:
Most inflammatory back pain is caused by certain autoimmune conditions. An autoimmune condition can occur when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue.5 Some autoimmune conditions that are linked closely to back pain are non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis and reactive arthritis.
It is important that inflammatory back pain is recognised and diagnosed so that it may be managed properly.
An autoimmune condition is when the body is attacking itself and its own healthy tissue. There are several types of autoimmune conditions and some of these are very closely linked to inflammatory back pain.
Patients may experience inflammatory back pain and limited spinal flexibility, even though doctors are unable to see any inflammation changes on an X-ray. This is known as non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis.6 In this case, more advanced ways of looking at the joints are needed, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.6 Non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis and ankylosing spondylitis share many symptoms, even though imaging evidence may differ.6
Patients with inflammatory back pain may have other clinical features associated with spondyloarthritis. These include peripheral arthritis7, psoriasis8 (a scaly skin rash), eye inflammation (uveitis)7,9, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)7,9 and/or pain at tendon insertion sites such as the Achilles tendon (enthesitis)7. These features may be present before or after the onset of back pain. Occasionally spondyloarthritis develops after gastroenteritis or a sexually transmitted infection (reactive arthritis).9 Some patients may already have a diagnosis based on these features such as psoriatic arthritis, enteropathic arthritis or reactive arthritis.
There is no simple test for most of these conditions. To help diagnose these disorders, doctors may complete a physical examination, perform X-rays and/or order blood tests to check for genetic markers.4,10,11 GPs may also refer patients onto a Rheumatologist, an expert who specialises in diagnosing and managing these conditions.
If you think you may have inflammatory back pain take the symptom checker