If you’ve ever hurt your back in even a minor way, you already know how much of a pain it is both literally and figuratively. The spine is the center of the body in many ways. When it hurts, it can be difficult to do much of anything, whether standing, sitting, or lying down. This especially applies when the spine pain or damage is the result of something rather serious like retrolisthesis. Retrolisthesis may not be a term you’ve ever heard of, but don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. We are going to examine retrolisthesis causes, retrolisthesis symptoms, retrolisthesis treatment, and retrolisthesis exercises to help you combat the issues that come with the condition.
What Are the Causes and Symptoms of Retrolisthesis?
Retrolisthesis occurs when one of your vertebrae slips backward out of place. It usually affects just one vertebra and tends to happen more often in the upper and lower back regions. There are also three different types of retrolisthesis: complete (the vertebra moves backward to both the vertebrae above and below it), partial (it moves backward to either the vertebrae above or below it; not both), and stair-stepped (the vertebra moves backward to the vertebrae located above it, but ahead of the one below).
Retrolisthesis can be caused by:
• Birth defects
• Stress and traumatic fractures
• A lack of vitamins and minerals that repair discs and maintain bone strength and general spinal health
• Weak core muscles that do not properly stabilize the back
• Spinal injury or injury adjacent to the spine area
• Infections of the blood or bone
• Diseases that weaken the bones including rickets and osteoporosis
Symptoms can include pain, a lack of range of motion, and a large bulge in the spine where the vertebrae have slipped. It may also trigger pain in another area connected to that spot like the hips, legs, shoulders and arms.
If some of these symptoms are sounding a little familiar, the next step would be to go to the doctor for a proper diagnosis.
You’ve gone to the doctor—how will they go about diagnosing your retrolisthesis, assuming that’s what the issue is? The first thing the doctor will do is ask you about your recent medical history, especially any previous spinal injuries or issues. This is usually followed by a physical exam and an X-ray (usually taken while you lie on your side). A slippage of two millimeters or more usually warrants a diagnosis. Related issues that may appear on the X-ray include:
• Bone spur formation
• The reduction of disc height
• The accumulation of gas between discs and vertebra, which is often referred to as vacuum phenomenon
• The hardening of the artery around the vertebra
After the diagnosis, you can then move on to treatment.
The bad news is, you’ve just been diagnosed with retrolisthesis. The good news is that it can be treated. Which treatment depends on the severity of the condition. Minor forms of displacement will often require rest along with a prescription for anti-inflammatory drugs. If it’s serious enough, the doctor may choose to use an epidural steroid injection to (at least temporarily) quell the pain. If the issue is very severe, surgery is also an option.
While it’s not a quick fix, you can also begin to add foods to your diet that can help boost your spine strength and help prevent retrolisthesis from occurring in the future. Foods that are high in copper (peas, peanut butter), calcium (dairy products), vitamin A (carrots, spinach, cantaloupe), and vitamin C (oranges, pineapple, broccoli) can all help in boosting your spine strength, especially when the diet is combined with exercises meant to strengthen your spine and rehabilitate it.
There are a number of exercises that can help rehabilitate and strengthen your back. Most of these exercises are naturally focused on the core and the back. You should also discuss the following exercises with your doctor as there may be certain retrolisthesis exercises to avoid depending on your condition. Furthermore, some of these may require the help of a chiropractor, medical doctor, or someone who specializes in spinal rehabilitation.
Self-Myofascial Release Exercise
With this exercise, you can use a muscle spasm to pull the misaligned vertebrae out of position. Again, check with your rehab specialist/doctor to make sure the movement won’t do any further damage. Lie flat on the floor with your face up and a foam roller positioned below the lower back. Your knees should be bent and your feet flat on the floor. The legs should push the roller so that it is slowly rolled up the spine. If you start to feel pain, stop right away.
1. Lower Back Roll Exercise
This exercise is for retrolisthesis in your lower back. Lie down on your back and bring your knees slowly to your chest while you interlock your hands behind the knees. Slowly roll your body to the left and then bring it back to the original position. Rest for a few minutes; then repeat the exercise on the right side.
2. Hip Roll Exercise
Stand with your hands against a wall. Your left leg should be slightly bent at the knee with only the ball of your foot touching the ground. Keep the right leg straight on the floor, bearing most of your weight. Rotate the left knee slowly outward and then inward. Repeat by changing sides.
Retrolisthesis Will Hurt, but Maybe Not for Long
As you have probably guessed by the description of retrolisthesis, it’s not going to be a comfortable time. In fact, there will be periods when it’s downright painful. But due to the multitude of treatment options—both medical and natural—you will most likely be rid of the ailment in a safe and timely manner.
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Kerkar, P., “4 Exercises for Retrolisthesis,” ePain Assist, March 16, 2017; https://www.epainassist.com/back-pain/lower-back-pain/4-exercises-for-retrolisthesis, last accessed May 15, 2017.