8th June 2010: UK Premiership footballer Rory Delap, renowned for his devastating throw-in, has launched ‘Back in Play’, a Europe wide campaign raise awareness of ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a poorly understood condition which can affect the lower back.
Most common in young men, AS is a type of inflammatory arthritis. The symptoms, typically low back pain and stiffness, can be subtle and are often overlooked or confused with sports injuries or common back pain, meaning it can take as long as three to eleven years to be accurately diagnosed.
The campaign, supported by the International Ankylosing Spondylitis International Federation (ASIF), kicks off today with the launch of the Back in Play website – www.back-in-play.com. The site features an addictive football game with a competitive European league, which tests a player’s throw-in skills whilst highlighting the symptoms of AS than can differentiate it from other back pain. Visitors to the site can also watch a throw-in master class from Rory Delap, review a symptom checklist compiled by ASIF, find out more information about the condition through patient and doctor interviews and explore links to patient support groups.
Stoke City player Rory, whose flexibility and back strength is key to his enviable skill, believes Back in Play can help raise awareness of this relatively unknown condition and its symptoms. “Most football fans will not have heard about AS, yet statistics show that up to 1 in 200 will have it,” he commented. “It is understandable that some of the symptoms like lower back pain are often written off as a sports injury or bad posture; however there are some key subtleties such as the pain getting better with exercise and painful, red eyes, than can indicate AS. Test your throw-in skills with the game and check out the symptoms at the same time.”
Most commonly, but not exclusively, found in young men, AS symptoms typically start in the late teens and early twenties, causing severe, chronic pain and discomfort. “A lack of awareness of the condition and the gradual onset of symptoms means that it can take years for sufferers to get an accurate diagnosis, I believe 15 years in my own case,” said Seoirse Smith, President of the Ankylosing Spondylitis International Federation (ASIF). “I know from personal experience that the earlier the condition is diagnosed the better the outcome for the patient. If AS is not correctly diagnosed or treated, over many years, the spine can become rigid as it may fuse together, and fixed in a bent position making it increasingly difficult to move freely and undertake day to day activities with ease.”
While there is no cure for AS, Dr Alexander Fraser, consultant rheumatologist at Limerick Regional Hospital, says that patients can be managed effectively. There are now several effective treatment options available for AS. Treatments aim to reduce pain and stiffness, to preserve and improve function and ultimately to prevent damage. These treatments include expert physiotherapy which has been the traditional cornerstone of therapy, the conventional anti-inflammatory drugs and in the past few years the newer biologic drugs which are highly effective, have revolutionized the treatment of severe AS and transformed the lives of many sufferers."
Speaking at the launch of Back in Play, Geraldine O’Connor, Corporate Affairs Manager, Pfizer Healthcare Ireland, said, “We are delighted to partner with Rory on what is an extremely exciting project. We hope that the Back in Play website will provide a useful and valuable resource for anyone who is concerned about AS.”
The first symptom people with AS typically experience is a dull pain in the lower back that comes on gradually over time. The pain is generally felt deep in the buttock and/or in the lower back regions and is accompanied by morning joint stiffness in the same area that lasts a few hours. These symptoms can improve with exercise, however return when at rest. The pain becomes persistent and is usually worse at night and can disturb sleep.
AS varies between individuals in the way it progresses and symptoms will differ in severity, however most patients will experience flare-ups of inflammation periodically. Disease progression can lead to fusion of the spine, causing loss of mobility and loss of function, making it increasingly difficult for the individual to move freely and carry out their usual daily activities.
Although AS is a form of arthritis which primarily affects the spine, other joints and organs of the body can also be affected such as the hips, shoulders, eyes, knees, lungs, bowel, skin and heart. One key symptom which can help differentiate AS from other conditions is uveitis, an inflammation of part of the iris within the eye; and conjunctivitis which causes red, gritty and painful eyes.
In Europe it is thought that approximately 1 in 200 people suffer from AS.
Pfizer created and funded Back in Play. Back in Play has been given the support of the ASIF which was established in 1988 to increase public awareness of AS and related diseases and to disseminate knowledge of the disease around the world. Further information can be found on www.asif-rheumanet.org
To play the game and to learn more about the campaign, AS and the treatments available, visit www.back-in-play.com
About Seoirse Smith
Seoirse Smith is the current President of the Ankylosing Spondylitis International Federation (ASIF) and Secretary of the Ankylosing Spondylitis Association of Ireland (ASAI).
Seoirse was diagnosed with AS at the age of 31 but believes his symptoms started some 15 years earlier. An old football injury was initially pinpointed as the reason for the back pain he experienced as a teenager but it wasn’t until his doctor made a connection between him suffering from an inflammatory eye condition called uveitis and his back and chest pain, that he was eventually diagnosed.
Seoirse's research into his condition, an improved prognosis and his proactive role in managing his AS initially led him to join ASAI before eventually becoming involved in running the association and then the international federation of related associations.
Published: 10th June 2010.