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Is Spondylolisthesis to Blame for Your Sciatica?

Spondylolisthesis and sciatica are words made for a spelling bee. In the medical world it is a combination that causes a great deal of pain, especially for people over 65. The Latin translation of spondylolisthesis is slipped vertebral body. When a vertebra slips forward over the vertebra directly below it, it can pinch a nerve along your spinal column. If one of those nerves is a sciatic nerve, you may experience a sharp, radiating pain typical of sciatica in your buttocks, thighs and down your calf muscles.

Understanding Spondylolisthesis as a Cause of Sciatica

To understand how spondylolisthesis causes sciatica, you first need to understand the mechanical structure of the spine. A healthy spine is composed of a chain of tiny bone-like structures, called vertebrae, that link together to create a protective frame for the spinal cord which runs from your neck to your sacrum. Each of the vertebrae in this chain is separated by a small intervertebral disc. These flexible discs serve as protective pillows between the bones, and absorb the daily shock created when we walk, run, or jump. The discs facilitate smooth fluid motion of the spine, as we move about in everyday life.

As we age, degenerative spondylolisthesis can occur causing the shock absorbing discs to be less pliable. They are no longer able to cushion a vertebra or prevent it from slipping forward on to the vertebra below, thus compressing a sciatic nerve. The most common locations for lumbar spondylolisthesis are the L4 and L5 vertebrae in your lower spine. Once we turn 65, spondylolisthesis becomes more common and it affects women more than men by a 3:1 margin.

Another form of spondylolisthesis is called isthmus spondylolisthesis which is also caused by aging. Due to wear and tear small stress fractures can develop in the vertebrae and facet bones. These small breaks weaken the vertebral bone enough so that it slips out of place pinching a sciatic nerve. Osteoarthritis can play a role in causing a vertebra to weaken and lose its ability to maintain its position and adequately support the spine

Additionally, an injury caused by a car crash, a bike accident, a fall while hiking can cause traumatic spondylolisthesis which can result in a slipped vertebra that generates sciatic nerve pain that radiates into your legs.

If you feel that a vertebra may have slipped, it is important that you contact a spine health expert. Your doctor can provide medication to relieve pain plus he/she can create a physical therapy strategy to alleviate stiffness in your spine and relieve pressure on the sciatic nerves. If the sciatica pain will not diminish, there are several minimally invasive surgical options available at Basic Spine. It is important to remember that you do not need to live in pain. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and following your doctor’s instruction will greatly increase your chances for a successful outcome.

Tips for Preventing and Managing Low Back Pain at Home

  • Regular stretching and exercise can help prevent and ease low back pain.
  • When lifting heavy objects, use your legs for leverage, not your back.
  • Walk cautiously and wear shoes with good traction when walking on slippery surfaces.
  • When carrying something, be sure to distribute its weight evenly, not favoring one side.
  • Consult a spine specialist for severe low back pain that hasn’t resolved withconservative methods in a few weeks.

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