Spondylolisthesis, or disc slippage, can cause severe pain and a variety of other symptoms. Spondylolisthesis is a condition that is caused by one of the bones in the spine, or the vertebrae, slipping out of its position and onto the bone (vertebrae) below that position. The vertebrae might slip toward the vertebrae in front or behind its original location, distorting the natural shape of your spine.
Spondylolisthesis typically happens in the neck (cervical) or lower back (lumbar) area, although it can occur anywhere on the spine. If the vertebra slips too far, the bones it is slipping towards can then press on the nerves of the spinal cord, causing intense pain that requires treatment, often in the form of surgery.
There are several causes of spondylolisthesis, with overuse or damage to the spine being the most common. Stress fractures of the vertebra are common in athletes and others who participate in frequent physical activity or those with a labor-intensive occupation. Stress fractures associated with these activities often weaken the bones in the spine, causing them to shift out of place, hence producing spondylolisthesis. The condition can also have a genetic component, such as being born with vertebrae that are thin, which increases your risk of them slipping out of place.
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The pain and other symptoms associated with spondylolisthesis depend on the severity of vertebral slippage. Some common symptoms include localized or radiating pain in the back, neck, arms, legs, or buttocks, tightening and stiffening of the muscles, lack of mobility, decreased range of motion, numbness, and tingling. These symptoms are typically worse when walking, standing or participating in physical activities. Rest can provide short-term relief.
Other complications include reduced physical activity, diminished mobility, weight gain, chronic back pain, infections of the spine, and possible permanent damage to the spinal nerve roots.
What is the difference between spondylolisthesis and a herniated disc? Many people tend to confuse the two. To best understand their differences, it’s important to first learn about the structure of the discs. The discs in your spine are made of a hard outer layer known as the annulus, which encases an inner-liquid-like matter known as nucleus.
A herniated disc occurs when the external layer weakens and allows the soft inner matter to leak through the annulus, causing compression and pressure on the surrounding nerves. When you have spondylolisthesis, what happens is that one of the bones in the spine slips out of its position and touches the vertebrae next to it. The bone can either slide forward or backward, causing pressure on the nearby bone which then applies pressure on the adjacent nerves.
Patients who have spondylolisthesis typically experience pain that is almost always felt on one side of the body. It also worsens when you sneeze, cough or lift heavy objects. The pain can be eased by lying horizontally on a flat surface. With herniated discs, the symptoms include muscle cramping, tingling sensations in the arms and legs, and pain that radiates through the arms and down the legs.
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The treatment needed for spondylolisthesis depends largely on how severe the symptoms are. Our doctors prefer beginning with non-invasive options first, and only recommend surgery if other treatments have failed to relieve your pain.
Conservative treatment options include medications, such as anti-inflammatory or prescription pain relief drugs, a back brace to keep the body properly aligned to avoid any unnecessary damage, short-term rest and physical therapy.
The last treatment option for spondylolisthesis is surgery. This is typically required for those suffering from extreme slippage and/or pain after conservative methods have failed. A severe case of spondylolisthesis can drastically affect your ability to perform daily activities, which makes surgery a smart choice and the best option at achieving a better quality of life.
Many doctors will suggest a spinal fusion, but at NJ Spine & Orthopedic, we also offer a minimally invasive alternative to fusion called a laminoforaminotomy. This surgery is outpatient with no hospital stay and requires a reduced recovery time.
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