Lumbar spondylolisthesis is vertebral slippage in the lower — or lumbar — region of the spine. While this can happen in the middle and upper spine, the lower back is the most commonly affected area. This is probably because the lower back bears more weight than the other regions, and this added pressure can cause more deterioration through years of movement. Weakened discs and joints make it easier for small fractures to occur that can cause the actual vertebra to move out of place, usually forward, in the spinal column. While pain and other symptoms do not always occur, when they do, they can be very difficult to overcome and may make everyday activities difficult.
Causes and symptoms
Spondylolisthesis can be due to a birth defect — congenital spondylolisthesis — but it more commonly develops later in life. Often, lumbar spondylolisthesis is a result of the natural aging process, but athletes and people who do a large amount of heavy lifting put themselves at a greater risk for developing the disorder. Conditions like spinal arthritis or a tumor can also contribute to the onset of spondylolisthesis.
Lumbar spondylolisthesis symptoms include pain in the lower back, pain in the buttocks, stiffness in the hamstrings and limited mobility. Depending on the severity and individual situation, treatments can range from conservative approaches like light exercise and stretching to surgery being required in other cases. A doctor will decide the course of treatment by first examining an X-ray or CT scan and grading the degree of the slippage on a 1–5 scale based on percentage, with 5 being the most severe.
Finding the right course of treatment
Lumbar spondylolisthesis treatment plans almost always begin conservatively — physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, back braces or steroid injections are all often-prescribed measures and bring successful pain relief for many patients. Surgery usually becomes an option if a full round — lasting weeks or months — of conservative treatment does not bring a return to normal activity and an acceptable quality of life.
If your physician recommends surgery to treat your lumbar spondylolisthesis, you should know that there are alternatives to traditional open back procedures. Minimally invasive spine surgery utilizes advances in medical technology to treat neck and back pain without the hospitalization, scarring and difficult rehabilitation associated with traditional open back surgery. Laser Spine Institute is the leader in this field, performing both minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures in a comfortable outpatient setting. Contact us today for a review of your MRI report or CT scan to see if you may be a potential candidate for one of these procedures.