What is Spondylolisthesis?
Spondylolisthesis is a condition that tends to affect the lower vertebrae, usually in the low back just above your pelvis. It isn’t really just one condition but rather a label that describes when one of the vertebrae slip forward slightly on the bone beneath it. This can be present from birth or develop later in life. It can occur with trauma, as a result of repetitive strain or with degenerative change. It’s often but not always painful, and is treatable in most cases. Both conservative and surgical methods can be used but with good quality conservative care, few patients go on to require surgery.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of spondylolisthesis vary and in some people there may be no symptoms at all. In severe cases, some people may really struggle to perform simple daily activities like self-care and work. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- persistent lower back and buttock pain
- muscle spasm in the low back
- stiffness in your back and legs
- hip and thigh pain
- tight hamstring and buttock muscles
Pain is usually aggravated by backward bending or sudden loading of the low back in running or jumping, and it may be eased by bending the spine forward. More serious cases may also have neurological symptoms like shooting pain, numbness or tingling, or even weakness on walking or standing from a seated position.
Who does it affect?
Spondylolisthesis affects a wide range of people. In adolescents and young adults we commonly see it result from physical stresses on an immature spine, usually from playing particular sports. A non-specific low back ache in an active teen may be the first sign of vertebral micro-fractures which can lead to spondylolisthesis.
Causes of spondylolisthesis vary based on age, heredity, and lifestyle. Children may suffer from this condition as the result of a developmental defect or injury. However, people of all ages are susceptible if the condition runs in the 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:
- track and field
Spondylolysis can be a precursor to spondylolisthesis. Spondylolysis occurs when there is a fracture in a vertebra, but it hasn’t changed the position of the vertebra relative to the bone below.
How is Spondylolisthesis diagnosed?
A physical exam is often the first step in diagnosing spondylolisthesis but X-Rays or imaging crucial for determining the precise relationship of the vertebral bones to one another. Your doctor or osteopath will also look for any fractures on the X-ray images. They may need to order a more detailed CT Scan if there is anyquestion about whether this is also affecting your nerves.
What are the best treatment options?
The best treatment for spondylolisthesis will depend on a number of factors including the degree of vertebra slippage, the nature of any accompanying nerve deficits, as well as the severity of your pain. Nonsurgical treatments should generally be the first line of treatment and are largely effective in reducing pain and improving function. Occasionally however, surgical intervention is required to relieve pressure on nerves; our Osteopaths can help you work out what sort of treatment is most suitable for you.
If you have been diagnosed with or are experiencing any of the symptoms of spondylolisthesis, click the button below to book in with one of our Osteopaths for a full assessment and an individually tailored treatment plan. An early visit to an allied health professional such as an osteopath or exercise physiologist can help fast-track you on the road to recovery.