As a drug-free and non-surgical treatment, chiropractic care can be your first choice for treating many types of back problems and for managing back pain. For these reasons, chiropractors are seeing more patients for a condition called spondylolisthesis (spon-di-low-lis-thee-sis).
What Is Spondylolisthesis?
According to the American Chiropractic Association, spondylolisthesis (also known as vertebral slippage or slipped vertebrae) occurs when one of your vertebrae slides forward or backward over another vertebra along the spine. This condition, as with slipped discs between the vertebral bones, commonly afflicts your lumbar or lower back area.
When your spinal cord or nerve roots become squeezed or restricted by the slippage, you may experience back weakness and possibly numbness in one or both legs. Severe cases of spondylolisthesis can lead to loss of control of bowel or bladder function, and even paralysis, though these are rare.
The main causes of this condition can be misalignments during childhood growth, the normal process of wear and tear from aging, and injury from overstraining the spine during competitive sports, for example. Some people may never have symptoms, but some will experience pain right away, while others may not develop symptoms until much later in life.
Symptoms of spondylolisthesis may include:
- Pain in the lower back or glute area
- Radiating pain from your lower back to one or both legs
- Leg weakness and muscle tightness in one or both legs
- Limping or difficulty walking
- Increased pain when twisting or bending
- Loss of bower or bladder control (rare)
How Is Spondylolisthesis Diagnosed by a Chiropractor?
Your chiropractor may conduct several diagnostic tests and take X-rays of your back to identify any slipped vertebrae, and, if necessary, order an MRI or CT scan for a better view your spine. Chiropractic treatments are very effective for mild or moderate cases of spondylolisthesis.
Can Chiropractic Treatments Help Spondylolisthesis?
Non-invasive treatment should be your first step when it comes to restoring the health and function of your back. Chiropractic care is often the preferred treatment for this condition, because it can help you avoid painful and costly surgery and unwanted side effects from medications.
By using your body’s natural ability to heal, a medically trained chiropractic spine specialist uses three primary non-surgical techniques:
- Spinal manipulation or manual therapy that involves gentle adjustment and massage to release restricted or impaired joints as a safe and effective way of relieving pain
- Flexion-distraction technique on the lumbar or lower back area that gently increases spinal motion to reduce pressure on nerves and relieve sciatica symptoms
- Instrument-assisted manipulation that aids in targeted and gentle force to the spine to reduce inflammation and nerve pain
Are There Other Treatments for Spondylolisthesis?
Depending on the damage identified by your chiropractor and the severity of your condition, you may need different treatments for spondylolisthesis:
- Back-bracing to stabilize the lower back and prevent further damage
- Weight-loss programs with prescribed nutrition and exercise
- Physical therapy to strengthen your core
- Epidural steroid injections to reduce inflammation and pain
- Surgery (in severe cases, if your spinal cord and nerves are restricted or damaged)
Back surgery should be the very last resort for treating severe spondylolisthesis, yet in severe cases, it may be necessary to improve your quality of life. Your surgeon would remove tissue or bone in order to relieve pressure on your nerves or spinal cord. Or your surgeon may opt for fusing the damaged bones into place so that they can no longer slip. In certain cases, your surgeon may perform both procedures. Keep in mind that invasive back surgery carries an element of risk, and it takes about a year to know the full result.
With expert chiropractic care, however, prevention and correction can make all the difference in your spine health. With healthy weight management, careful exercise, and regular chiropractic visits, you can alleviate the pain and mobility problems associated with spondylolisthesis.