Back and leg pain that just won’t quit? It could be spondylolisthesis

Back & Neck

by Ioannis Avramis, MD

Apr 20, 2021

Unfortunately for many of us, low back pain is extremely common. Thankfully, this back pain is often caused by muscle problems and usually gets better with time and physical rehabilitation. 

However, some forms of back pain are caused by structural problems in the bone, discs, nerves and joints of the spine. Examples of these causes are disc herniations, stenosis and spondylolisthesis. 

What is spondylolisthesis? 

Spondylolisthesis (I know, it’s quite a mouthful to pronounce) is one of the most common conditions that spine surgeons like myself treat. Spondylolisthesis is a term to describe instability and malalignment between two vertebral bodies and the disc in between them, usually in the lumbar or low back region. 

What does spondylolisthesis feel like?

Symptoms can vary greatly, but most people experience some amount of back pain and sciatica, or pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve, which runs down one or both legs from the lower back.

The back pain can vary from mild and episodic to severe, constant and debilitating. The pain is located in the low back, or lumbar region, and can radiate down to the buttocks. The pain is usually significantly exacerbated by standing and walking for long periods of time or standing up after sitting. When standing up, people will sometimes have to slowly stand to an upright position to try and lessen the pain. 

Likewise, the leg pain or sciatica can vary as well. Some people will have little to no leg pain, and others will have constant burning and electrical pain with numbness and sometimes weakness. The leg pain can be on either side, or both, and switch sides depending on the position of the spine. 

So, what causes these painful symptoms? Both the back and leg symptoms are due to the irritation of the joints and nerves caused by the instability of the spine.

Treating back pain from spondylolisthesis

Treatment of spondylolisthesis is driven by the amount of symptoms there are, but ultimately, definitive treatment involves un-pinching the nerves and stabilizing the bones so they do not continue to slide out of place. This surgery is called a decompression and fusion, where implants are used to hold the two bones together to allow bone to grow between them, fusing them into one bone. 

But before symptoms are severe enough for surgery, physical therapy, medications and steroid injections can be helpful to lessen the symptoms. If you’re experiencing back pain, you don’t have to live with it — get help today.

About the Author

Ioannis Avramis, MD, is an orthopedic spine surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center. Book an appointment with Dr. Avramis today.

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