Spondylolisthesis – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is spondylolisthesis?
Spondylolisthesis is a spinal disorder in which a bone (vertebra) in the spine slips onto the bone below it. This condition can cause lower back pain or weakness in legs. Spondylolisthesis is more common in women than in men.
What causes spondylolisthesis?
The most common causes of spondylolisthesis are trauma, fracture, overstretching, or arthritis. Bone disease can also cause spondylolisthesis. Some sports activities, such as gymnastics, weightlifting, and football can exert great pressure and stress the bones in the lower back. These sporting activities involve constant overstretching (hyperextend) of the spine, which can lead to a stress fracture on one or both sides of the vertebra. A stress fracture can cause a spinal bone to become weak and shift out of place.
The condition mostly affects people over 50 years old.
In children, spondylolisthesis is either caused by a birth defect or sudden injury. Usually, this condition occurs between the fifth bone in the lower back (lumbar vertebra) and the first bone in the sacrum (pelvis) area.
What are the symptoms of spondylolisthesis?
Sometimes, a person with spondylolisthesis may have no symptoms. When symptoms occur, they vary from mild to severe. Children may not have symptoms until they are 18 years old.
Spondylolisthesis can lead to increased lordosis (swayback of spine). In later stages, this condition may result in kyphosis (roundback) as the upper spine moves onto the lower spine.
The following are the symptoms of spondylolisthesis:
- Lower back pain
- Muscle tightness
- Pain, numbness, or tingling in the buttocks and thighs
- Weakness in the legs
- Tenderness in the area of the vertebra that has moved onto the lower bone
How is spondylolisthesis diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and review your symptoms. A physical exam will be focused on feeling your spine to see if a vertebra has moved out of position. The doctor will also ask you to raise your leg straight in front of you to see if this produces any discomfort and pain.
The doctor may order an x-ray of the spine to find out if a bone in the spine is out of place or broken. A CT scan or MRI scan of the spine may also be done to see if there is any narrowing of the spinal canal.
How is spondylolisthesis treated?
Treatment of spondylolisthesis depends on the extent of abnormal shifting of the vertebra. Most people get better with exercises that stretch and strengthen lower back muscles.
If the shift is not severe and there is no pain, you can slowly resume your activities. Also, you can play most sports if there is no pain.
The doctor may instruct you to avoid contact sports or to change activities to protect your spine from being overextended.
The doctor will ask you to have follow-up x-rays to make sure the problem is not getting worse.
The doctor may also recommend:
- A back brace to limit spine movement
- Pain medicine (oral or injected into the back)
- Physical therapy
The doctor may recommend surgery to fuse the shifted vertebrae if you have:
- Severe pain that does not get better with treatment
- A severe shift of a spine bone
- Weakness of muscles in one or both of your legs
- Difficulty with controlling your bowels and bladder
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.