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Helping You Find Relief from Spondylolisthesis

The Rochester Regional Health Spine and Pain Center offers evaluation and treatment services for spondylolisthesis, which often causes low back pain.

Learn more about spondylolisthesis, its common symptoms, possible causes, and how our team of experts evaluates and treats this condition below.

What is Spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis is a slipping of the vertebra that occurs, most often, at the base of the spine. There are several different types of spondylolisthesis - the most common types include:

  • Congenital spondylolisthesis - present at birth
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis - occurs at the result of spondylolysis, a condition that leads to small stress fractures in the vertebrae. In some cases, the fractures weaken the bone so much that it slips out of place.
  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis - the most common form of the disorder. With age, the discs lose water, becoming less spongy and unable to resist movement by the vertebrae.
  • Traumatic spondylolisthesis - less common, traumatic spondylolisthesis is an injury that leads to spinal fracture or slippage.

Common Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis

Many people who suffer from spondylolisthesis have zero symptoms, and do not even realize they have the syndrome. When symptoms do occur, low back pain is the most common - the pain usually spreads across the lower back, and may feel like muscle strain.

Spondylolisthesis can also cause:

  • Muscle spasms in the hamstring muscles, which can cause the person to walk with short strides and knees slightly bent
  • Pain that may spread down the leg to the foot
  • Tingling and/or numbness in the foot

Spondylolisthesis Treatment

Treatment for spondylolisthesis depends on several factors, including the age and overall health of the patient, the extent of the disc slip, and the severity of the symptoms. Treatment is typically conservative, involving rest, medication, and exercise.

  • Conservative treatment - Patients suffering from spondylolisthesis should take a break from sports and other activities until the pain subsides. A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, might be recommended to help reduce pain and inflammation. Stronger medications may be prescribed if NSAIDs do not provide relief. 
  • Epidural steroid injections - Medication is injected directly into the space surrounding the spine; this may also help reduce inflammation and ease pain. A brace or back support might also be used to stabilize the lower back and reduce pain.
  • Physical therapy - A program of exercise and/or physical therapy will help increase movement, flexibility, and muscle strength. Stabilization exercises are the mainstay of treatment - they strengthen the abdominal and/or back muscles, minimizing bony movement of the spine. Generally, 8 to 12 weeks of aggressive daily treatment are needed to achieve clinical improvement.
  • Surgery - Surgery may be necessary if the vertebra continues to slip or if pain is not relieved by more conservative treatment. Should you require surgical treatment, our providers will discuss this option with you in detail. 

Follow-Up Spondylolisthesis Care

The persistent pain often associated with spondylolisthesis can lead to reduced mobility and inactivity, which can, in turn, result in weight gain, loss of bone density, and loss of muscle strength. There is also the risk of permanent nerve damage if a slipped vertebra is pressing on a spinal nerve root.

While spondylolisthesis is not preventable, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk:

  • Keep back and abdominal muscles strong to help support and stabilize your lower back
  • Choose activities and sports that do not place your lower back at risk for injury - swimming and biking are excellent options
  • Maintain a healthy weight - excess weight adds stress to your lower back
  • Eat a well-balanced diet to keep your bones well-nourished and strong

To learn more or to make an appointment, call (585) 723-7705.