Improving Your Health and Wellbeing

Understanding Spondylolisthesis

by Ernest Smith

Spondylolisthesis is a condition that occurs when one of the vertebra bones in your spine becomes misaligned. The tissue between your bones is not affected, so it's not the same as having a slipped disc. Spondylolisthesis can occur at any point along your spine, but the lower back seems to be most commonly affected. Here's an overview of the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment approach for spondylolisthesis:

Causes and Symptoms

The cause of spondylolisthesis can't always be identified, but possible causes include acute trauma to the spine or repetitive trauma, which is often suspected as the cause when an athlete develops this condition. A spinal birth defect can also leave you more susceptible to developing spondylolisthesis. The wear on the joints of the vertebrae due to arthritis can cause a vertebra to slip.  

Common symptoms of spondylolisthesis include stiffness in the back and lower back pain, which tends to worsen after a period of increased activity. You may also experience pain or numbness radiating from your lower back down the back of your legs because the slipped bone squeezed a nerve.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose spondylolisthesis your doctor will take details of your symptoms and arrange for you to have a back X-ray. If you have symptoms indicative of a trapped nerve, you may also undergo additional diagnostic imaging tests, such as an MRI, to establish if any serious damage has been done to the surrounding nerves and muscle tissue.

Spondylolisthesis treatment is dependent on the severity of your symptoms, but you may be prescribed anti-inflammatories or steroids to reduce localised tissue swelling in an attempt to reduce pressure on the surrounding nerves. Physiotherapy may also be suggested in order to improve or maintain the range of motion you have in your back. When more conservative treatment options aren't successful, surgery may be advised. This involves either having the affected vertebra fused into position with metal rods or having it removed and replacing it with a bone graft to keep the vertebrae above and below the affected area in the correct position. This type of surgery requires months of recovery time and you should discuss the risks in detail with your surgeon before undergoing the procedure. However, surgery can bring complete relief from your symptoms.

If you think you could have spondylolisthesis or if you're suffering from undiagnosed back pain, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.