When one of your spine’s bones moves out of place and slides onto the vertebra lying beneath it, spondylolisthesis is the result. This usually occurs in the lower back (lumbar) area and can lead to nerve roots or your spinal cord becoming squeezed, resulting in pain, numbness and/or weakness in your back and legs.
Spondylolisthesis is a word that is sometimes confused with other spine conditions, such as spondylosis, spondylitis, and spondylolysis. Though these conditions are all very different, the one thing they have in common is the derivation of their names; the term spondylos comes from the Greek word for “spine.” The word “spondylolisthesis” is a blend of the word spondylos, meaning spine, with the word listhesis, which means “to slide.”
Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis
You can have spondylolisthesis and not be aware that you do, as this condition has very few, in fact sometimes no, crystal clear symptoms. You may note some pain in your lower back, but this can be misconstrued as a simple muscle strain as the pain increases with your movements. Another symptom some people experience is pain in the buttocks or legs. Pain radiating down the legs causing weakness, tingling, or numbness can occur if the vertebra is sitting on a nerve root. Often those symptoms can extend to your feet, which can lead to difficulty when walking. Rarely, spondylolisthesis can lead to bladder incontinence or loss of bowel control. If these unusual symptoms occur, you should visit a health care professional immediately.
Causes of Spondylolisthesis
The bones of your spine are normally kept in alignment by the small joints that hold your vertebrae together as your spine is still flexible enough to bend and twist. When one of these tiny joints becomes damaged, spondylolisthesis may occur. Some people are born with a congenital case of spondylolisthesis due to an innate, defective joint.
The most common cause of spondylolisthesis, however, is due to spinal wear and tear. When discs become worn out over the years, joints degenerate and vertebrae can slip out of place. Osteoarthritis can cause stress fractures that damage the joints, too, as well as infection. These causes make spondylolisthesis occur more commonly in older people, though this condition is not restricted to those who are advanced in age. Anyone at any age can develop spondylolisthesis due to an acute injury or some type of trauma. Sports injuries and damage from overuse can even cause spondylolisthesis to develop in children and teenagers due to stress fractures.
Treatments for Spondylolisthesis
At the Spine Institute Northwest, we can diagnose this condition using imaging tools, such as an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan. These testing devices can help determine if you have a fracture in a vertebra or whether a bone has slipped out of place. If Dr. Solomon Kamson, MD, PhD, diagnoses spondylolisthesis, his treatment protocols will depend upon what caused the condition and how severe it is.
When the pain you suffer from spondylolisthesis is somewhat minor, Dr. Kamson may recommend managing your condition using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, together with ceasing the activity that may have caused the condition to develop. Although resting may seem like a good idea, it’s very important to keep moving when you have spondylolisthesis. Dr. Sol Kamson recommends core-strengthening programs to develop the stomach and back muscles that help support the spine. It’s critical that you consult a physician and work with a physical therapist if you are diagnosed with spondylolisthesis.
If your pain is very severe, if conservative measures have not worked to relieve pain, if vertebrae continue to slip, or if nerve damage has occurred, then surgery may be indicated. At the Spine Institute Northwest, we perform minimally invasive procedures, such as vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty, to strengthen fractured vertebra. Decompression and laminectomy procedures can also help by removing bone material that is resting on a nerve.
Contact Dr. Kamson at the Spine Institute Northwest in Bothell, WA, today at (208) 496-0630 to arrange a free evaluation of your condition by uploading your imaging results to our office.