What is spondylolisthesis?
Spondylolisthesis is a spinal condition that affects the lower vertebrae (spinal bones). This disease causes one of the lower vertebrae to slip forward onto the bone directly beneath it. It’s a painful condition but treatable in most cases. Both therapeutic and surgical methods may be used. Proper exercise techniques can help you avoid this condition.
The symptoms of spondylolisthesis vary. People with mild cases may not have any symptoms. However, those with severe cases may be unable to perform daily activities. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- persistent lower back pain
- stiffness in your back and legs
- lower back tenderness
- thigh pain
- tight hamstring and buttock muscles
Causes of spondylolisthesis vary based on age, heredity, and lifestyle. Children may suffer from this condition as the result of a birth defect or injury. However, people of all ages are susceptible if the condition runs in the family. Rapid growth during adolescence may also be a contributing factor.
Playing sports may also cause your strain to overstretch and put stress on your lower back. The following sports are especially likely to cause this condition:
- track and field
Spondylolysis is often a precursor to spondylolisthesis. Spondylolysis occurs when there is a fracture in a vertebra, but it hasn’t yet fallen onto a lower bone in your spine.
Physical exams are the first step in diagnosing this condition. If you have spondylolisthesis, you may have difficulty raising your leg straight outward during simple exercises. X-rays of your lower spine are crucial for determining whether a vertebra is out of place. Your doctor may also look for any possible bone fractures on the X-ray images.
Your doctor may order a more detailed CT scan if the misplaced bone is pressing on your nerves.
The treatment for spondylolisthesis depends on your severity of pain and vertebra slippage. Nonsurgical treatments can help ease pain and encourage the bone to go back into place. It’s important to avoid contact sports during the healing process.
Common nonsurgical treatment methods include:
- wearing a back brace
- doing physical therapy exercises
- taking over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) to reduce pain
- using epidural steroid injections
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends trying nonsurgical treatments first. However, adults suffering from severe cases of spondylolisthesis may need to have a surgery called a spinal fusion.
Surgical correction of the misplaced vertebra is required when the bone has slipped so far down that your spine doesn’t respond to nonsurgical therapies. Surgery is also required if the bones of your spine are pressing on your nerves.
Your doctor will work to stabilize your spine by using a bone graft and metal rods. They may insert an internal brace to help support the vertebra while it heals.
After the spinal fusion is complete, it will take four to eight months for the bones to fully fuse together. The success rate of the surgery is very high.
Medical intervention is crucial for relieving symptoms of spondylolisthesis. This condition can cause chronic pain and permanent damage if left untreated. You may eventually experience weakness and leg paralysis if nerves have been damaged. Infection of the spine may also occur in rare cases.
Kyphosis, also called roundback, is a possible complication in which the upper portion of the spine falls off of the lower half, causing increased forward spinal angulation.
If you think you’re experiencing symptoms of spondyloslisthesis, it’s important to talk to your doctor right away. Early treatment measures can alleviate most symptoms of this condition. According to an article published in Neurosurgical Focus, most people with spondylolisthesis respond well to conservative nonsurgical treatment.
Your doctor will talk to you about your options, depending on how severe your condition is.