Definition

What is spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which one bone in your back (vertebra) slides forward over the bone below it. It most often occurs in the lower spine (lumbosacral area). In some cases, this may lead to your spinal cord or nerve roots being squeezed. This can cause back pain and numbness or weakness in one or both legs. In rare cases, it can also lead to losing control over your bladder or bowels. See a doctor right away if you begin losing bladder or bowel control.

Sometimes when a vertebra slips out of place, you may have no symptoms at all or no symptoms until years later. Then, you may have pain in your low back or buttock. Muscles in your leg may feel tight or weak. You may even limp.

How common is spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis is common. It can affect patients at any age. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of spondylolisthesis?

The common symptoms of spondylolisthesis are:

  • Back or buttock pain.
  • Pain that runs from the lower back down one or both legs.
  • Numbness or weakness in one or both legs.
  • Difficulty walking.
  • Leg, back, or buttock pain that gets worse when you bend over or twist.
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control, in rare cases.

Sometimes spondylolisthesis causes no symptoms at all.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes spondylolisthesis?

Causes of spondylolisthesis vary based on age, heredity, and lifestyle. Children may suffer from this condition as the result of a birth defect or injury. However, people of all ages are susceptible if the condition runs in your family. Rapid growth during adolescence may also be a contributing factor.

Playing sports may also cause your strain to overstretch and put stress on your lower back. The following sports are especially likely to cause this condition:

  • Football
  • Gymnastics
  • Track and field
  • Weightlifting

Spondylolysis is often a precursor to spondylolisthesis. Spondylolysis occurs when there is a fracture in a vertebra, but it has not yet fallen onto a lower bone in your spine.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for spondylolisthesis?

There are many risk factors for spondylolisthesis, such as:

  • A family history of back problems
  • A defect in the pars interarticularis bone in the spine (a condition called spondylolysis)
  • A history of repetitive trauma or hyperextension of the lower back or lumbar spine.
  • Athletes such as gymnasts, weight lifters, and football linemen who have large forces applied to the spine during extension are at greater risk for developing isthmic spondylolisthesis.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is spondylolisthesis diagnosed?

Physical exams are the first step in diagnosing this condition. If you have spondylolisthesis, you may have difficulty raising your leg straight outward during simple exercises. X-rays of your lower spine are crucial for determining whether a vertebra is out of place. Your doctor may also look for any possible bone fractures on the X-ray images.

Your doctor may order a more detailed CT scan if the misplaced bone is pressing on your nerves.

How is spondylolisthesis treated?

Treatment for spondylolisthesis begins with stopping any physical activity that may have led to vertebrae damage. To help relieve pain, take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including ibuprofen (such as Advil) or naproxen (such as Aleve). Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome, a serious illness. Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) can also help with pain. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

Doctors often suggest physical therapy to build up stomach and back muscles (core strengthening). In overweight people, weight loss may also help.

When pain is extreme or bones continue to move, or if there is nerve root or spinal cord damage related to the spondylolisthesis, surgery can sometimes help. Surgery may be done to remove bone or other tissue to take pressure off the spinal cord or nerves (decompression). Or surgery may be done to fuse the bones in position. Sometimes both decompression and fusion are done during the same surgery. After any of these surgeries, you may need to wear a cast or back brace for a while. Later, rehabilitation therapy will help make your muscles stronger and movement easier.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage spondylolisthesis?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with spondylolisthesis:

Home remedies for spondylolisthesis are similar to those for low back pain and include ice, heat, and over-the-counter analgesics such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and anti-inflammatory medications.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: September 6, 2017 | Last Modified: September 6, 2017

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