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Spondylolistesis FAQ

By AGE2B team
June 19, 2021

1. Which doctors treat spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis is usually treated by an orthopedist. Orthopedics is the medical specialty that deals primarily with the correction or prevention of disorders of a skeleton. These can be problems associated with the bones, joints, muscles or ligaments.

2. What causes spondylolisthesis?

The vertebrae of the spine are connected by small joints that allow for movement of the bones, but at the same time, keep them lined up. Spondylolisthesis is caused by a problem in one or more of these joints. This allows one of the vertebra to move out of alignment. Some of the joint problems that could lead to spondylolisthesis include:

  • A joint problem that developed before birth (congenital)
  • An accident or injury that damaged a joint
  • Wear and tear on the joint that leads to a fracture of a vertebra (stress fracture)
  • Infection or arthritis can damage a joint

3. What are the recommended treatments for spondylolisthesis?

Physical therapy is one of the best treatment options for spondylolisthesis. Exercises to help strengthen the muscles that support the spine are often recommended. Weight loss is often recommended for people who are overweight or obese to remove as much stress from the spine as possible. Pain control is achieved by using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen if tolerated, or acetaminophen.

4. What activities should be avoided if a person has spondylolisthesis?

High-impact activities like jogging and running may stress the lower back and your doctor may recommend avoiding these. Swimming and riding a bicycle don’t cause low back stress and may be better suited for people who have spondylolisthesis or are at risk for the disease. Prolonged periods of inactivity are not recommended because this can allow the muscles to weaken which makes the condition worse.

5. What are the chances the pain of spondylolisthesis will return?

The chances the pain of spondylolisthesis will return depends on how severe the condition is. The chances of recurrence of pain are much less in mild cases of the condition that has been adequately treated.

6. Are there long-term complications associated with severe cases of spondylolisthesis?

In severe cases of spondylolisthesis, permanent damage to the nerves may occur with lasting lower extremity weakness or paralysis.

7. Is surgery always necessary?

No, not every case of spondylolisthesis requires surgery. Medication and physical therapy are sufficient to provide relief in many cases.

8. Will I be able to work following surgery?

The answer to the questions depends on the type of job you are involved in. Following surgery for spondylolisthesis, most patients are out of bed and walking soon after the operation, but their activity is restricted for the first month. If your work involves only sedentary activity, you may be able to go back to your job within 4-6 weeks. If your work involves heavy labor, you may need to plan for modifications in your job. Talk this over with your surgeon and your doctor, because they know your unique situation and will be able to answer this question.

9. What are some spondylolisthesis treatment exercises?

There are certain exercises your physical therapist will recommend to help decrease the pain caused by spondylolisthesis.
Some exercises you can do are:
1. Pelvic Tilt
This exercise is done to decrease the pain due to spondylolisthesis by holding the lower spine in a stretched position.
  • Start by lying face up on the floor.
  • Bent your knees and keep your feet flat on the ground.
  • Flatten your lower back against the ground.
  • Retain the abdominal muscles to hold the position.
  • Hold this position for 15 seconds and relax.
2. Abdominal Crunches
Those with spondylolisthesis need to have strong abdominal muscles. If you have weak abdominal muscles, these can often cause pain and instability if you have the condition. You can make your abdominal muscles stronger by doing crunch exercises.
Keep in mind not to force your body to do the full range of motion of this exercise because it may cause additional pain and slow down your recovery.
  • Lie face up on the ground.
  • Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the ground.
  • Fold your arms over your chest.
  • You can also support your head by putting your fingers behind your ears.
  • Lift your head and shoulders slowly off of the floor until you feel your abdominals contract.
  • Hold this position for 3 seconds then slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times.
3. Hamstring Stretch
Spondylolisthesis sometimes causes hamstrings to tense up. Hamstrings are the big muscles that are located on the back of the thighs. Tense hamstrings can increase the pain and discomfort as it pulls on the lower back.
  • Start by sitting on the ground.
  • Stretch your legs in front of you and point your toes pointing to the ceiling.
  • Lean forward and try to touch your toes slowly. It’s okay if you can’t touch your feet as long as you feel the back of your legs stretching.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

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