What is Spondylolisthesis?
Spondylolisthesis is a condition where one vertebra slides forward over the vertebra below, usually in the lower back, often squeezing the spinal cord or nerve roots and leading to back pain and numbness or weakness in one or both legs.
In extreme cases, spondylolisthesis can cause a loss of bladder or bowel control. Patients who experience these symptoms should see a doctor immediately.
In other instances, symptoms of spondylolisthesis may not be detectable for years before coming on suddenly.
What causes Spondylolisthesis?
Spondylolisthesis can be caused by several different problems with the small joints in the back, and are often based on age, lifestyle and genetics. Some common causes are:
• Arthritis and other conditions which produce abnormal wear on bones and cartilage (in adults)
• Birth defect, or rapid growth during adolescence (in children)
• Sports, physical activity could strain or hyperextend the spine
• Injuries or fractures/stress fractures
• Bone disease
What are some of the symptoms of Spondylolisthesis?
The symptoms of spondylolisthesis vary. Some people experience no symptoms while others are impaired beyond being able to perform daily activities.
The most common symptoms of spondylolisthesis are:
• Lower back pain or tenderness
• Stiffness in the back and legs
• Pain, weakness or numbness in one or both legs
• Thigh pain, and/or muscle tightness in the hamstrings or buttocks
Untreated spondylolisthesis can lead to lordosis (“swayback”) or kyphosis (“roundback”).
How to diagnose Spondylolisthesis?
The first step in diagnosing spondylolisthesis is a physical exam. A doctor will feel your spine, and ask you to raise your leg straight out in front of you and perform other simple exercises, probing for pain, tenderness and weakness.
X-rays can confirm that a vertebra is out of place, and reveal any possible fractures. A computerized tomography (CT) scan can tell is nerves are inflamed or pinched.
What are some treatement options for Spondylolisthesis?
In most cases, spondylolisthesis is a painful but treatable condition. Treatment depends on the severity of pain and degree of slippage in the vertebra. Most of the time, patients can overcome spondylolisthesis with physical therapy and rest.
Treatment options include:
• Physical therapy — Simple exercises can alleviate pain, shift the bone back into place and help avoid a recurrence
• Back brace — Can protect the spine from further injury, and encourage the vertebra into realignment
• Medication and/or epidural steroid injections — To reduce pain and swelling
• Surgery — As a last resort if the problem persists through the above treatment options