You were just diagnosed with spondylolisthesis — a condition you’ve never heard of. Your spine specialist tells you it involves your spinal vertebrae and can cause lower back pain and pain in your legs when you stand for lengthy periods of time or walk. However, you still may have more questions about what this diagnosis entails.
If you were diagnosed with this condition, you don’t need to be alarmed. While spondylolisthesis can definitely be a sometimes serious and painful problem, it’s generally not dangerous. Our team at NJ Spine & Orthopedic can help answer any questions you may have about your diagnosis, and our Concierge Team is here to streamline your appointments.
What Is Spondylolisthesis?
This is a condition of your spine where one of your vertebrae slips backward or forward in relation to the next vertebra. When the vertebra slips backward, it’s known as retrolisthesis, whereas a forward upper vertebra slippage on a lower vertebra is called an anterolisthesis.
Spondylolisthesis can cause spinal deformity along with spinal canal narrowing, which is known as central spinal stenosis. It can also cause nerve root compression which is referred to as foraminal stenosis. While this condition is typically more common in your lumbar spine, it can also occur in your thoracic or cervical spine.
Types of Spondylolisthesis
There are five major types of spondylolisthesis which include:
1. Dysplastic Spondylolisthesis
This type of spondylolisthesis occurs due to a defect in the formation of an area of your vertebrae, known as the facet, that enables it to slip forward. This is a congenital condition.
2. Degenerative Spondylolisthesis
You can develop degenerative spondylolisthesis when you have arthritic changes in your vertebrae joints because of cartilage degeneration that occurs later in life. This condition often occurs with aging and affects older adults the most.
3. Isthmic Spondylolisthesis
With isthmic spondylolisthesis, you have a defect in the pars intra articular portion of your vertebra. Repetitive trauma can cause isthmic spondylolisthesis, and it is more common in athletes who are exposed to hyperextension motions.
4. Traumatic Spondylolisthesis
This is caused by a direct injury or trauma to your vertebrae. You could have a fracture of your facet joints, lamina, or pedicle that enables the forward slippage of the front part of your vertebra with respect to the back part of your vertebra.
5. Pathologic Spondylolisthesis
When you have a defect in the bone due to abnormal bone (i.e. caused by a tumor), it can lead to pathologic spondylolisthesis.
Risk Factors That Can Contribute to Developing Spondylolisthesis
You may have a higher risk of developing this condition due to factors like:
Younger athletes who engage in sports like football or gymnastics that require stretching the lumbar spine have a higher likelihood of developing spondylolisthesis.
Certain individuals who have isthmic spondylolisthesis are born with a thin area of the vertebra referred to as the pars interarticularis. This thinner piece of bone attaches your facet joints, which connect your vertebrae directly below and above in order to form a working element that allows spinal movement. Thin vertebrae areas like this have a higher chance of slipping or fracturing. There’s also a large genetic component to degenerative spondylolisthesis.
As you age, you can develop degenerative spinal conditions. These occur when you have spinal wear and tear that weakens your vertebrae. Older individuals who have degenerative spine conditions have higher chances of developing spondylolisthesis than others.
Spondylolisthesis Treatment Options
Typically, examining a patient doesn’t show any noticeable signs of spondylolisthesis. Patients usually complain of back pain with intermittent leg pain. X-rays or MRIs are usually needed to confirm this diagnosis. Various treatment options include:
Some types of nonsurgical treatments include:
- Medication: You may find relief with OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Your doctor might prescribe you other medications if these don’t work.
- Rest: You’ll need to take a break from sports and strenuous activities.
- Physical Therapy: Your physical therapist can utilize targeted exercises that can help strengthen your back and abdomen.
- Injections: The doctor may give you a steroid injection directly into the affected site.
- Bracing: A brace helps limit motion allowing fractures to heal, which helps stabilize your spine, although braces aren’t used in adults.
Talk with your doctor about other non-surgical treatments.
If your pain is severe or non-surgical treatments aren’t effective, you might require surgery. Surgery for spondylolisthesis is meant to stabilize your spine, ease pain from the aggravated nerve, and restore overall function.
Most individuals are able to go back to their regular activities a few months following their surgery. However, your spine will not be as flexible as it was prior to the surgery. This is why it’s important to follow all post-surgery recovery instructions from your spine surgeon to help ensure the best possible outcome.
Reach Out to the Spondylolisthesis Specialists at NJ Spine & Orthopedic Today
The spinal professionals at NJ Spine & Orthopedic are dedicated to providing the best care possible to our patients which includes both non-surgical and minimally invasive procedures based on your specific needs. We also specialize in spondylolisthesis treatment options and will work diligently to ensure you find relief from your symptoms.