About 4% to 6% of the American adult population is estimated to suffer from spondylolisthesis.
Although spondylolisthesis is relatively rare, some people may live with spondylolisthesis for years without being aware that they have it. Patients may also have the condition for years before seeking medical attention.
Most people receive conservative treatment such as anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy. When these measures fail, surgery is performed.
The condition of spondylolisthesis is the result of the vertebrae moving more than they should, resulting in a chance for the spine to become unstable. As a vertebra moves out of position, it falls onto the vertebra below it. The pressure on a nerve may result in pain in the lower back and legs.
It is common for teenagers to suffer from spondylolisthesis, in which one vertebra slips forward and completely separates from the vertebra below. A neck injury or rheumatoid arthritis can cause a spondylolisthesis in the cervical spine. Cervical spondylolisthesis often causes neck discomfort and stiffness.
Young children and teenagers who participate in sports that overextend the lumbar spine are more likely to develop spondylolisthesis. Growth spurts are more likely to cause vertebral slippage in adolescents.
In old age, deterioration of the vertebrae can lead to degenerative spine diseases. Spondylolisthesis occurs more often in older adults with degenerative spinal disorders. Spondylolisthesis rates increase after age 50.
Genetics also play a part in causing spondylolisthesis. Some patients have a thin part of the vertebra called the pars interarticularis. This tiny sliver of bone connects the facet joints between vertebrae. As a result, thinner vertebrae may fracture and slip.
Spondylolisthesis can cause pain in the back in children and teenagers but does not always cause discomfort. You may not notice any symptoms of spondylolisthesis, and some people are unaware they suffer from the condition.
If you do experience lower back pain, it may spread to the buttocks and thighs. Other symptoms you may experience include:
- Back pain that feels like a muscle strain
- Pain that rises with activity and drops at rest
- Long-term difficulties with walking or standing
- Inability to bend over without pain
- Hamstrings and quads feel tight
The doctor will review your medical history, examine you physically, and may order an X-ray. A simple X-ray is usually all that is needed to detect a spinal forward slip or pars defect. Doctors may use bone scans and computed tomography (CT) scans to examine the spine in greater detail or to visualize soft tissues like discs and nerves.
The symptoms of spondylolisthesis may be alleviated by rest, including avoiding sports. The doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications for additional relief. If necessary, you may receive an injection of steroids.
Stress fractures may be treated with special braces, casts, and corsets to reduce pain and stabilize the spine. The doctor may also encourage you to work with a physical therapist. The physical therapist can teach you targeted exercises to strengthen your abs and back. Usually, after a few weeks, you may notice a reduction in pain.
When other treatments fail to help people with spondylolisthesis, a patient may need surgery. For some, surgery would be the best first step. Surgical methods can relieve pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. Only a qualified spinal surgeon can determine if you are a good candidate for spinal surgery
Can I Prevent Spondylolisthesis from Coming Back
You may benefit from exercising to strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, especially for teenagers and children. Visit your doctor regularly to detect any concerns as early as possible. Following these steps lowers your risk of spondylolisthesis:
- Exercise your back and abdominal muscles regularly to keep them strong.
- Make sure your body mass index (BMI) is within a healthy range. Additional weight gain can strain your lower back.
- Eat calcium-rich foods, such as dairy and soy products, to help you maintain strong and healthy bones.
While spondylolisthesis cannot be cured on its own, rest, medication, and physical therapy can provide relief. If you think you have symptoms of spondylolisthesis, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.
This condition can almost always be alleviated through early medical intervention. Your doctor will explain your options to you and guide you through the treatment process.