Spondylolisthesis (spän-də-lō-lis-ˈthē-səs)is a condition where a vertebra slips over another vertebra below it. It typically occurs in the lower spine and sometimes will lead to the compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots. As a result, it can cause numb sensations or weakness in the legs and pain in the lower back. What causes spondylolisthesis? The bones in your spine come together at a few small joints that allow your spinal column to flex and move. Spondylolisthesis occurs when those joints become damaged or weak, allowing them to slip and cause the bones to move out of alignment. Spondylolisthesis can result from a variety of issues like:
- A defective joint that you’ve had since birth (congenital)
- A joint damaged by an accident or other trauma
- A vertebra with a stress fracture caused from overuse of the joint
- A joint damaged by an infection or arthritis
Symptoms of spondylolisthesis The severity of symptoms of spondylolisthesis will vary on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, spondylolisthesis won’t display any symptoms until years later. Lower back pain is generally most common and may feel like a muscle strain. Symptoms of spondylolisthesis can include:
- Back (especially lower) or buttock pain
- Pain that moves from the lower back down the leg
- Numbness, weakness or pain in the legs or feet
- Trouble walking
- Pain worsens when bending over
- Increased curvature of the back
- Tightened or spasming hamstrings
The best way to diagnose spondylolisthesis is with an X-ray of the lower back. It will reveal any fractures in the vertebrae or any signs of displacement. A computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can produce detailed images to pinpoint damaged bones and nerves clearly.
Treatment of spondylolisthesis
Treatment for spondylolisthesis depends on a few factors, including the severity of symptoms, the extent of the slip, and the age and overall health of the patient. Discontinuing any physical activity that could have caused the problem or that is irritating the vertebrae, is the first step to recovery. Your doctor can also prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen.
If the pain is severe or the bones continue to slip, or if there is nerve root or spinal cord damage related to the spondylolisthesis, surgery can sometimes be an option. Surgical removal or fusion of the bone or other tissues can release pressure off the spinal cord or nerves. A cast or brace may be required, as well as rehabilitation therapy to strengthen muscles. If you feel you have been experiencing symptoms of spondylolisthesis, we encourage you to speak with one of our pain specialists at Pain Management and Injury Relief.