Back in Action


Back in Action: Living with ankylosing spondylitis

Back in Action is an awareness campaign to raise awareness about ankylosing spondylitis (AS), which is an inflammatory arthritis which mainly affects the spine, but can also cause pain and/or swelling in the shoulders, hips, knees, heels, chest/ribs and small joints of the hands and feet. The condition affects people's physical and mental health and can disrupt every aspect of life. AS is a form of axial spondyloarthritis (axspA), which also includes non-radiographic (nr-axSpA) forms.

It is estimated that up to 8,000 people are living with AS in Ireland, while up to 33,000 people have some form of axSpA, many of them developing symptoms in their twenties or thirties. 

It can be difficult to diagnose AS and there is an eight-year delay in diagnosis in Ireland.

Writer and geologist, Amanda Geard, and hurling legend, Michael Fennelly, share their experiences of living with AS, the impact it's had on their lives and how they are managing to live well with the condition. You can watch them tell their stories below.

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Amanda Geard's story

Amanda Geard lived with chronic debilitating pain for 15 years before she was finally diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

‘The rheumatologist told me: you’re 22 now and you’ve got this degenerative autoimmune condition that will never go away.’

Although she now had a name for her condition, 'I wasn't given any weapons to fight it with,' she said. 

The Tasmanian native came to live in Ireland a number of years ago, and as a result of a conversation with her GP was referred to a consultant rheumatologist. That changed everything.

For Amanda, life before and after she received proper treatment for AS is worlds apart. While before treatment the pain began the minute she opened her eyes and it took her an hour or two to get out of bed, now she can get up straight away on waking. She also enjoys regular exercise like running, swimming and yoga, all of which help her manage her condition.

Read more of Amanda's story here.


Michael Fennelly's story

Eight times All-Ireland winner with Kilkenny and Offaly senior hurling manager, Michael Fennelly, was just 20 when he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondolysis (AS), and he has been living with the painful condition for the past 16 years.

'I do feel normal, but when it’s bad, it’s bad – pain can have a big impact on your happiness and mood.’

Playing sport at the highest level, the stiffness and pain caused by AS in his back and neck began to create major difficulties for Michael, given the massive physical demands of the game. Remaining injury-free and being able to train and compete with the Kilkenny senior hurling team was his priority at the cost of getting fitter, stronger and more powerful. Despite his best efforts, there were some days when the pain and stiffness in Michael’s back threatened his ability to play.

Read more of Michael's story here.


Call the Arthritis Ireland helpline
0818 252 846

Email the Arthritis Ireland helpline

Back in Action is supported by Novartis.