In a normal spine, vertebral bodies are positioned perfectly on top of one another. Healthy discs, facet joints, and ligaments are responsible for maintaining this proper alignment of the bones with movement. However, in certain individuals, the bones do not properly align. When this happens, and a vertebra slides forwards or backward in relation to the vertebra next to it, the result is a mismatch known as spondylolisthesis.
Spondylolisthesis can cause a great deal of neck or back pain because the involved joints (discs and facets) are unstable, leading to accelerated wear and tear (arthritis of the spine). In addition, the misaligned bones can cause pressure on nearby nerves, leading to radiculopathy, and sciatica. This condition, while debilitating, can be treated if left to the professionals, such as those to be found at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics.
Cause and Symptoms
In general, spondylolisthesis results from the aging process. Accumulated wear and tear causes weakening in joints and ligaments that hold the spine together, allowing bones to slip out of normal alignment. Individuals with spinal birth defects or spine injuries are also susceptible to spondylolisthesis. In addition, spondylolisthesis can occur during adolescent development, particularly if the body grows too quickly. Some young athletes can suffer from this condition as constant overstretching and impact cause wear and tear on the spine.
Most cases of spondylolisthesis are causing no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they tend to be mild to moderate and can be treated effectively without surgery. Initial flareups of pain may respond well to activity modification and OTC pain medications. Epidural steroid injections are an option for more intense nerve pain. Epidural injections have been shown to help alleviate pain and improve function in up to 50% of spondylolisthesis patients. Ultimately, formal physical therapy with core strengthening exercises will help stabilize the loose spine by building up the surrounding muscles. Later transition into a daily, at-home exercise program can prevent this condition from worsening and causing symptoms in the future. Surgery is rarely necessary, but very effective at eliminating disabling symptoms, allowing patients with advanced spondylolisthesis to quickly resume their regular lifestyles.
When seeking treatment for spondylolisthesis, look for experienced, qualified spine specialists who understand the complexities of diagnosing spine ailments. Many symptoms, such as pain or tingling, cannot be measured and may result from common conditions not related to spondylolisthesis. The diagnosis of symptomatic spondylolisthesis can never be made from MRIs alone and must be correlated with comprehensive physical examination findings. Beware of providers who offer free MRI reviews.
A spine specialist evaluating spondylolisthesis must be willing to spend a great deal of time listening to patients to gather clues about where their symptoms are coming from. He or she must also conduct a detailed neurological physical examination. An MRI or other advanced images may be used to confirm the findings and establish the correct source of symptoms and signs.
Life After Spondylolisthesis Treatment
Up to 95% of spondylolisthesis patients will return to normal activity without surgery. The body has a remarkable capacity for healing, and the role of the spine specialist is to guide patients through this process quickly and prevent future recurrences of symptoms.
However, for the rare patients who do require intervention, such as spinal injection or surgery to regain normal function, the spine specialist must have a broad range of skills and a proven record of technical mastery to assure optimal results. Patients owe it to themselves to get treated by the best spine specialists in the field.
NJ’s Only Comprehensive Center for Spondylolisthesis: Available for Evaluation, Treatment, and Follow-up Care.
The dedicated team at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine, and Orthopedics (CNSO) understands how neck and back problems can impact daily life. By working with this team of renowned, board-certified neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, non-surgical physicians, physiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, and certified physical therapists, patients will receive comprehensive and coordinated care, so they can quickly resume their regular lifestyle free from disability. CNSO offers multiple convenient locations spanning northern New Jersey, including offices in Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Essex, Hudson, and Sussex Counties. Northern NJ patients can learn more about effectively treating spondylolisthesis by contacting the providers at CNSO today.