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Spondylolisthesis

What is spondylolisthesis?
What are the signs of spondylolisthesis?
What causes spondylolisthesis?
How does my doctor tell if I have spondylolisthesis?
How is spondylolisthesis treated?

What is spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis is a back condition that is usually the result of an injury (a stress fracture) to one of the bones in the back. It is a very common cause of low back pain in adolescent athletes, and may involve a kind of slipping of the bones in the back that can cause nerves to be put under pressure, resulting in pain and/or numbness in the legs.

What are the signs of spondylolisthesis?

  • In many people, no obvious signs are present
  • Pain that spreads across the lower back, and may feel like a muscle strain
  • Spasms that stiffen the back and tighten the hamstring muscles, resulting in changes to posture and way of walking
  • Compress nerves and narrowed spinal canal
  • Pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs

What causes spondylolisthesis?

  • Overuse of the back—some sports, such as gymnastics, weight lifting, and football, put a great deal of stress on the bones in the lower back.
  • A hereditary aspect—a person may be born with thin vertebral bone and be vulnerable to this condition
  • Long periods of rapid growth may encourage slippage

How does my doctor tell if I have spondylolisthesis?

Your doctor may take some of the following steps to see if you have spondylolisthesis:

  • Talk with the patient to find when and how the pain began and how long it has lasted
  • Ask questions about a family history, an injury, or a previous history of spondylolisthesis
  • Perform a physical examination, including a neurologic examination, also by looking at the patient's back, and asking the patient about quality of the pain in different positions
  • Order an X-ray to get a clear view of the bones, if indicated
  • Request a CAT (computed axial tomography) scan of the spine to get a better view of the spine, if indicated
  • Arrange for an MRI (magnetic resonance image), if indicated

How is spondylolisthesis treated?

Reducing the pain and decompressing the nerve are the primary goals of treatment. Your doctor may follow some of the following steps:

  • Ask you to take a break from sporting activities until the pain goes away
  • Manage your pain with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • May request a program of physical therapy and exercises

A spinal fusion is sometimes performed between the lumbar vertebrae (lower back bones) and the sacrum. Sometimes, an internal brace of screws and rods is used to hold together the vertebrae as the fusion heals.

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