Spondylolisthesis is a spinal disorder in which a vertebra slips forward while the vertebrae beneath it stay in place; resulting in a pinched nerve between the two vertebrae. Spondylolisthesis affects over 3 million people in the United States per year. This condition can be very painful depending upon the degree or grade of slippage. In most cases, the slippage is reversible.
The symptoms of spondylolisthesis may vary. Mild cases may not display any symptoms, whereas severe cases can limit a person’s ability to perform daily activities.
Symptoms may include:
- Lower Back Pain
- Stiffness in the Back and/or Legs
- Tenderness in the Lower Back
- Pain in the Thighs
- Tight Hamstring and/or Buttock Muscles
Age, heredity, and lifestyle affect the development of spondylolisthesis. For example, children may develop spondylolisthesis from growth spurts. In adolescence, the spine is extremely flexible and is subjected to several growth spurts. As the spine grows, the vertebrae are at a higher risk of slipping. However, people of all ages can develop spondylolisthesis.
Further, putting stress on your back by doing activities, such as playing sports, may overstretch your back and impact the development of spondylolisthesis. Sports that are likely to cause this injury include football, gymnastics, track and field, and weightlifting.
A condition known as Spondylolysis is often a forewarning of Spondylolisthesis. Spondylolysis refers to the fracturing of a vertebra that has not yet made the descent onto a lower bone on your spine. Furthermore, the fracturing of the vertebra weakens the bone to the point where it can no longer maintain its proper position. As a result, the fractured vertebra shifts in your spinal column causing it to slip out of place.
Types of Spondylolisthesis:
- Congenital Spondylolisthesis is present at birth as a result of abnormal bone formations. These formations result in an abnormal arrangement of the vertebrae, resulting in a higher risk of vertebral slippage.
- Isthmic Spondylolisthesis results from spondylolysis.
- Degenerative Spondylolisthesis is the most common type that develops with age. As humans age, the discs that cushion their vertebrae lose water, become less spongy and have a lowered ability to protect the vertebrae from slipping.
- Traumatic Spondylolisthesis occurs when you sustain a spinal injury. This injury can come from traumatic events, such as auto accidents, and result in the fracturing and/or slippage of vertebrae.
- Pathological Spondylolisthesis occurs when disease, infection, or a tumor weakens the spine.
Spondylolisthesis is further classified by the distance the vertebrae has traveled. These classifications are referred to as grades, and the breakdown is as follows (listed from lowest to highest grade):
- 1: 25 percent of the vertebral body has slipped forward.
- 2: Between 25-50 percent of the vertebral body has slipped forward.
- 3: Between 50-75 percent of the vertebral body has slipped forward.
- 4: Between 75-100 percent of the vertebral body has slipped forward.
- 5: The vertebral body has completely fallen off and looks detached.
Physical exams can help diagnose this condition. A key marker of Spondylolysis is having difficulty raising your leg. X-rays will also help in diagnosing this condition.
Your doctor may also request a CT scan to determine if the fallen bone is putting unnecessary pressure on your nerves.
Treatment for spondylolisthesis will vary depending on the degree of vertebral slippage, and also the pain experienced. There are several non-surgical options that may ease pain and help the vertebra move back into the correct position. These non-surgical treatments include wearing a back brace, physical therapy, over the counter medications, and steroid injections. It is vital that you avoid contact sports, or contact collisions while receiving treatment so that you can fully recover.
However, if these non-surgical treatments do not help, you may need surgery. Surgical corrections are reserved for cases in which the grade of the spondylolisthesis is high, and non-surgical methods will no longer restore the vertebra to its proper position.
Are you experiencing symptoms of Spondylolisthesis? Call us now at 801-683-1948 to schedule a no-cost medical exam.