Spondylolisthesis is a long word that can be even longer on delivering pain. Spondylolisthesis is a displacement of the anterior vertebrae. This occurs most commonly in the lower spine, the lumbar spine. Also known colloquially as a slipped disc, the displaced vertebra misaligns part of the spinal column and needs immediate treatment to prevent serious complications from developing.
How does this slippage happen?
It seems impossible that one of your vertebrae could do this. How can a vertebra move forward? The culprit is the small joints that keep the bones aligned. These small joints allow the movement of the spine, but problems with them can allow one bone to move out of line.
These are causes of spondylolisthesis:
- A congenital defect in one of the joints
- Accident or other trauma
- A stress fracture in a vertebra from overuse
- Damage caused by arthritis or an infection
What are the symptoms of spondylolisthesis?
- Back or buttock pain
- Numbness or weakness in one or both legs
- Pain that runs from the lower back down one or both legs
- Difficulty walking
- Leg, back, or buttock pain that worsens when you bend over or twist
- Loss of bladder or bowel control (rare)
In some cases, the patient doesn’t have any symptoms and can live with the condition.
How do we diagnose spondylolisthesis?
X-rays are pretty reliable for showing spondylolisthesis. This is because the vertebrae are bones and show up well on x-rays. CT scans or MRIs may be needed to help pinpoint the problem spot and guide our treatment.
How do we treat spondylolisthesis?
Obviously, the first step in treatment is to cease any activity that may have led to vertebrae damage. We’ll use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve the pain. Physical therapy can be used to strengthen the surrounding muscles to help support the spine.
But if the above treatments don’t cut it, surgery may be the way to go. This will likely be the case where there is nerve root or spinal cord damage related to the vertebra movement. Decompression surgery removes pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. Fusion surgery will eliminate the misaligned vertebra, instead of fusing two adjacent vertebrae into one. We may even combine fusion and decompression surgery.