Understanding Spondylosis vs. Spondylolisthesis

Analyzing Patient’s Spine for Spondylosis or Spondylolisthesis

If you’re experiencing back pain, back stiffness, or muscle spasms in your hamstrings, spondylosis or spondylolisthesis could be to blame. In order to determine the cause of these symptoms, only an expert in spine, such as a neurosurgeon or orthopedic spine surgeon, can provide you an accurate diagnosis. Based on the severity of spondylosis or spondylolisthesis, Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics will determine the best treatment.  CNSO ensures high-quality care for any degree of spondylosis or spondylolisthesis that might be affecting your spine.

What Is Spondylosis?

Any bone in the body which experiences “wear and tear” can experience inflammation which may lead to arthritis.   Inflammation often occurs around joints, such as knees, hips, and shoulders. The arthritic process may also affect the facet joints of the spinal column which is comprised of interconnected vertebral bones and discs.  As people age, these discs begin to shrink, which is a condition known as degenerative disc disease. Arthritis can start to occur at age 25 to 30,  causing the formation of bone spurs. Wherever this arthritic process occurs in the spine, it is referred to as spondylosis. It can be asymptomatic for years but can then develop gradually cause increasing levels of pain in the neck or back.   Spondylosis may lead to the medical conditions of spinal stenosisherniated discs, spondylolisthesis, and more.

Spondylosis most commonly becomes problematic for people over 50. Common symptoms include any of the following and should prompt you to seek medical attention:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Clicking and popping sounds in the neck
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Headaches
  • Muscle spasms
  • Difficulty with coordination and balance – immediately seek medical attention
  • Loss of muscle strength – immediately seek medical attention
  • Incontinence – immediately seek medical attention

Most patients will find relief with conservative medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and muscle relaxants. Physical therapy and strength training is critical to help alleviate pain and prevent worsening symptoms or complications. Epidural steroid injections have proven to be beneficial in many cases. In severe cases where either a nerve or the spinal cord is compressed, surgical treatment such as a laminectomy, spinal decompression, fusion surgery, using  minimally invasive spine surgery techniques, provide a rapid recovery and minimal scaring.

What Is Spondylolisthesis?

When the spine is healthy, vertebral bones and joints allow the spine to flex and bend as we move. The spinal column is arranged from the base of our skull to our tail bone, in perfect alignment. But when the spine is not healthy, either because of a congenital malformation, trauma or arthritis, a vertebra can slip out of alignment which is a condition known as spondylolisthesis.  The movement out of alignment can lead to pinched nerves, spinal cord compression, and compression on the neighboring vertebral bones. This destabilizes the spine’s discs, facet joints, and anatomic structure which can lead to numerous related conditions, including spinal stenosis, radiculopathy, and sciatica.

Other common causes of spondylolisthesis include:

  • Natural effects of aging
  • Spinal trauma
  • Rapid growth during the teen years
  • Overstretching and strong impacts due to youth sports
  • Birth defects
  • Back surgery complications
  • Tumors
  • Osteoporosis

For minor degrees of spondylolisthesis, rest alone can resolve most symptoms. Surgery is only necessary for severe degrees of laxity or slippage of the vertebral bones causes nerves or the spinal cord to be at risk. Your neurosurgeon may suggest physical therapy or at home exercises to strengthen your core muscles. If pain is more severe, epidural steroid injections can help relieve discomfort. For those with symptoms that fail to respond to conservative treatments, your surgeon may recommend a fusion surgery, or other procedures.

Seeking Treatment for Spondylosis or Spondylolisthesis

While many patients will never require extensive treatment for these conditions, more severe cases have a significant impact on quality of life. If you are struggling with back pain and symptoms of spondylosis or spondylolisthesis, schedule a consultation with an experienced neurosurgeon at CNSO. Neither condition can be diagnosed without medical imaging and patients should be wary of any practice that claims to do so. Determining the underlying, complex causes of pain and mobility difficulties requires physicians with extensive training in the spine which includes the understanding of biomechanics, anatomy, the nervous system, and how it correlates to the symptoms experienced by the patient.  It also requires the training and ability to read and evaluate xrays, MRIs, and CTs of the spine and the knowledges of how those images correlate with the patient’s symptoms.   Only a neurosurgeon or orthopedic spine surgeon has this training and experience.  Treating spine patients takes a collaborative approach involving the patient and potentially multiple specialists, to ensure patients achieve the best outcome.

At Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics, we deploy a multi-specialty, coordinated approach to quickly diminish discomfort and restore mobility and function. We achieve this goal by listening to each patient’s medical history what they are experiencing, then we develop a customized plan to isolate the root cause of a patient’s symptoms.  The process always includes:

  • Performing a comprehensive physical neurological and musculoskeletal examination
  • Review all diagnostic testing, including previous imaging and EMGs
  • Analyze prior treatments, efficacy, and complications
  • And more…

Our team can then provide a diagnosis and suggest the best treatment plan to improve and restore the health of your spine as quickly as possible. Depending on the individual case, non-invasive pain management procedures or treatments may be recommended to reduce pain caused by inflammation. It will minimize the pain and enable patients to participate in physical therapy, muscle relaxation, and strength training that will aid in guarding against any future injury to the spine. When patients experience significant structural changes to their spine, surgery may be required. For more information, contact Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics in Northern New Jersey today.

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