The spine is made up of 33 vertebras, or bones. Within the vertebrae lies the spinal canal which contains the spinal cord and the nerves. As you might imagine, the vertebrae are quite flexible, enabling you to bend, twist and move how you need to; however, vertebrae, just like any other bone in the body, can also shift out of position. When vertebrae slip out of position this problem is known as spondylolisthesis. If you are experiencing persistent back pain, our board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas Cartwright can determine if you’re dealing with spondylolisthesis.

How Spondylolisthesis Happens

When the vertebrae move or slip out of place this leads to spinal instability known as spondylolisthesis. In most cases, spondylolisthesis is the result of wear and tear over time. Since vertebrae lose water as we age, this also makes them more at risk for slippage. Spondylolisthesis can also occur when there is a spinal fracture present that weakens the vertebrae (more common in young athletes). Less likely but still common, this condition can also be the result of trauma, surgery or disease (e.g. osteoporosis).

Signs and Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis

Some individuals may have spondylolisthesis and never experience symptoms; however, if you do develop symptoms the most common symptom is lumbar pain, or lower back pain. The pain may also radiate to the buttock and thighs. You may also experience pain when bending over, muscle spasms in the thighs, back stiffness, or numbness and tingling in the legs or feet.

Risk Factors

Age is a determining factor in this condition, as individuals over the age of 50 are more at risk for vertebrae slippage; however, teens and young adults can also develop spondylolisthesis, particularly if they are athletes. Gymnastics and football are high-impact activities that can cause vertebrae to slip, particularly as your child is growing. If your teen is experiencing back pain, it could very well be due to this spinal condition.

Treatment Options

There are two types of spondylolisthesis: low-grade and high-grade. Low-grade spondylolisthesis is often seen in children and teens and doesn’t typically require surgery. On the other hand, high-grade spondylolisthesis can lead to severe back pain and mobility issues, and will often require surgery. Of course, our orthopedic surgeon Dr. Cartwright can perform a comprehensive evaluation to determine whether you are dealing with high-grade spondylolisthesis and whether you may require surgery. Patients experiencing severe pain that isn’t responding to nonsurgical treatment options may benefit most from corrective surgery. Don’t ignore symptoms of spondylolisthesis, as ignoring your symptoms could lead to permanent nerve damage, weakness and even paralysis. Call Houston Advanced Spine at (281) 305-9533 to schedule an evaluation with Dr. Cartwright and his team.

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