Chinese ‘folded man’ Li Hua, who suffered from Ankylosing Spondylitis, finally straightens up after 28 years.

This video appeared in the South China Morning Post on Thursday, with a good ending when Li Hua made it through not one but four bone-breaking operations at Shenzhen University General Hospital, to finally release him from his folded position.

What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of spinal arthritis, i.e., it primarily attacks the spine, causing severe inflammation of the vertebrae (back bone). Patients with this type of arthritis suffer chronic pain and eventually disability, with the more advanced cases having severe deformity because new bone forms on the spine which may cause the vertebrae to fuse, such as in the case of Li Hua.

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is not confined to the spinal area only; it can also attack other large joints such as the shoulders, knees and hips.

Todate, medical science does not know what causes arthritis or AS in particular.

Five warning signs of AS

The most common symptoms are flare ups of spinal pain and stiffness. Apart from that, AS patients may also have problems with their vision.

Sign 1: Family history (hereditary) of AS. Scientists have noted that this disorder seems to be hereditary, leading to a possibility of a yet-to-be discovered faulty gene. If a person has parents or siblings suffering from AS, research estimates the person to be 10 – 20 times likely to have AS as well.

Sign 2: Unexplained pain in the lower back. Back pain normally recedes after a period of rest, but those with AS find pain and stiffness worsen when they wake up. Surprisingly, AS pain may lessen after exercise, whereas ordinary back pain worsens after exercise.

Note: Pain from AS normally comes from where the pelvis and spine meet.

Sign 3: Pain gradually moves up the spine and worsens. Since AS is a chronic and gradually progressive disease, the pain and inflammation make their way upward from the lower back. The vertebrae (back bones) may fuse together leaving some AS patients with the spine in a forward curvature or humpbacked.

Sign 4: Unexplained pain and stiffness in the chest, joints (wrists or ankles) or heels. Doctors have noted AS patients have pain and stiffness in the areas mentioned above, or even at the rib cage where breathing becomes difficult.

Sign 5: Pain relief from NSAIDS (anti-inflammatory pain killers). Though NSAIDS do provide relief from AS symptoms, they do not halt the disease. Your doctor may need to prescribe medications to target inflammation.

AS risk groups

Arthritis and rheumatism generally affect older adults. However, AS often attacks younger adults between the ages of 20 – 40 years.

AS is three times more likely to affect males than females.

Treatment for AS

Currently there is no specific cure for AS. Doctors can suggest treatments and medications to help AS patients to manage the pain and hopefully prevent disability. It is important to note that proper and timely treatment is essential to slow down the progression of the disease.

Surgery is possible for advanced cases of AS, as for Li Hua, but this should be discussed with a rheumatologist who is a specialist in diagnosing and treating arthritis.

A rheumatologist can also run through simple home treatments and diets to help ease AS symptoms.

We end off here with the hope the general information provided on Ankylosing Spondylitis will help our readers to realize the importance of early consultation with a doctor or rheumatologist for persistent back pain. Note: this article should not be taken as medical advice.

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