While vertebral slippage can be a painful condition, many patients respond well to non-surgical treatments.
If a spinal vertebra is fractured or damaged due to a defect or some type of injury, it may slip forward over the bone below it. When this happens, it’s a condition called spondylolisthesis, which is sometimes referred to as having a “slipped disc.”
Oftentimes, the lower spine is affected by vertebral slippage, although it’s possible for the same problem to develop in the neck and other parts of the spine.
Spondylolisthesis Signs and Symptoms
If spondylolisthesis is mild, there may be no symptoms experienced. If the vertebral slippage is more extensive, spinal nerves may become irritated or affected by inflammation. If this happens, discomfort may extend beyond the source of the pain and be felt in nearby areas. Symptoms that may be related to spondylolisthesis include:
- Recurring lower back or neck pain
- Stiffness felt in the back of the legs
- Tenderness within the affected area
- Pain felt in the thighs, buttocks, shoulders, or arms
- Tight muscles in the buttocks or back of the thighs (hamstrings)
Causes and Contributing Factors
Anyone at any age can be affected by spondylolisthesis. Children sometimes develop the condition because of a birth defect, spinal abnormality, or injury. There’s evidence suggesting growth spurts typically experienced during adolescence could play a role in vertebral slippage. A vertebral defect or stress fracture (spondylolysis) also increases the risk of spondylolisthesis. Vertebrae can also be damaged or over-stressed from heavy lifting, weightlifting and other types of strenuous exercise, or direct impacts to the spine. In some instances, age-related changes to spinal discs (degenerative disc disease) can cause a vertebra to slip out of place.
Because spondylolisthesis has symptoms characteristic of other sources of spine-related pain, diagnosis typically involves a physical examination and X-rays of the affected area. Patients may be asked to attempt to raise their leg outward since spondylolisthesis sometimes makes it difficult to do this. Images tests can also detect spinal bone fractures and other issues that may be contributing to the problem with the affected vertebra. CT scans and MRIs can produce more detailed images by showing bones, soft tissues, and nerves.
Treatment Options for Vertebral Slippage
Unless the slipped vertebra is causing severe, potentially life-threatening, or debilitating symptoms, treatment for treatment spondylolisthesis usually starts with non-surgical remedies. Over-the-counter and prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen may ease related pain and swelling. Therapeutic physical therapy exercises sometimes manage symptoms effectively and provide relief. Other possible treatment methods for spondylolisthesis may include:
- Temporary use of a back brace
- Epidural steroid injections
- Chiropractic adjustments
- Surgical correction of the misplaced vertebra
- Stabilization surgery that may include a fusion
- Nerve decompression surgery
The most effective way to reduce the risk of spondylolisthesis not related to preexisting abnormalities is to keep your spine and its supporting parts as healthy as possible. This is a goal that can be accomplished by watching your posture, being mindful of your weight and the foods you eat on a regular basis, and taking proper precautions when playing sports to avoid hard impacts that may damage vertebrae.