Symptoms of Non-Radiographic Axial Spondyloarthritis (nr-axSpA)

The most common sign is lower back pain.

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Back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the U.S. It is estimated that 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes, according to the American Chiropractic Association.

There are many things that can cause low back pain. It could be as clear as a strained muscle from lifting a heavy box, or something a little more complex, such as spondyloarthritis. Learn more about different causes of back pain.

Spondyloarthritis is an umbrella term for arthritis diseases that primarily affect the spine. Non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis (nr-axSpA) is one type of spondyloarthritis.

The “nr” in nr-axSpA stands for “non-radiographic.” This is one way to differentiate it from another type of arthritis that affects the spine, called ankylosing spondylitis. Non-radiographic is just a fancy way of saying there’s no damage visible on X-rays. By contrast, patients with ankylosing spondylitis will have visible damage to the bone on X-rays. Technically, nr-axSpA can be early-stage ankylosing spondylitis. Learn more about ankylosing spondylitis here.

Symptoms of nr-axSpA

Chronic back pain is the hallmark symptom of nr-axSpA, but it’s not as black and white as it may seem. The following characteristics of nr-axSpA help doctors distinguish it from other types of back pain:

  • Often begins in early adulthood (before 45 years of age)
  • Has a gradual onset (rather than sudden onset after an injury)
  • Back pain for at least three months
  • Is worse after rest, such as in the morning after you wake up
  • Improves with exercise
  • Wakes you up at night
  • Can cause morning stiffness lasting more than 30 minutes
  • Can be associated with buttock pain that alternates between the left and right side

Even though back pain is the most common symptom of nr-axSpA, the spine isn’t the only affected part of the body. People with nr-axSpA may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue and sleeplessness
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Heel pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Pain, stiffness, and swelling in other joints
  • Swollen “sausage” fingers
  • Other inflammatory diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Symptoms of nr-axSpA vary from person to person, so it’s important to get a proper diagnosis. If you think you may have nr-axSpA, make an appointment with your doctor. Learn more about how nr-axSpA is diagnosed here.