Getting a spondylolisthesis diagnosis beforebeginning a treatment regimen may seem like amatter of course, but you may be surprised toknow that many people try to diagnose andtreat themselves without ever seeing a medicalprofessional. This can be risky for a variety ofreasons. One, you may misdiagnose yourself andend up exacerbating the condition; two, youmay overlook a potentially serious condition;and three, you may treat yourself incorrectly,which can result in injury or, at the very least, noimprovement in your symptoms.
Where to Go for a DiagnosisThe best course of action to ensurethat you get an accurate,professional diagnosis and areprescribed an effective treatmentplan is to schedule a consultationwith your primary care physician.While he or she may end upreferring you to a spine specialistwho has more experience treatingspondylolisthesis, your physician isa good place to start.
The Diagnostic ProcessAll physicians approach the diagnostic process differently, but there are several common componentsthat you may encounter when you meet with your physician regarding a spondylolisthesis diagnosis.These include: • Physical examination – This may involve tests for strength, range of motion, and flexibility in the spine. Your physician may also palpate your spine to check for areas of tenderness, swelling, and inflammation. Palpation may also help the physician to determine the location and approximate degree of vertebral slippage, if any exists. • Review of symptoms – This is an extremely important part of the diagnostic process. Report all of your symptoms in as much detail as possible, noting their location and severity. Be sure to specify if your symptoms tend to remain localized or if they travel throughout the spine and extremities. This could be an indication to your physician that neural compression is present. • Review of medical history – Having a clear picture of both your personal and familial medical history can help your physician determine if any past injuries, surgeries, preexisting conditions, or a genetic predisposition may be contributing to your current symptoms. • Medical imaging – Medical imaging scans like an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan may or may not be necessary to confirm a diagnosis of spondylolisthesis. Your physician may order these tests to determine the exact degree of vertebral slippage and whether nerve compression is present.
Starting Treatment After your DiagnosisWhile it may be disheartening and scary if your physician confirms a spondylolisthesis diagnosis,the good news is that you can finally put a name to the symptoms you’ve been experiencing.Getting an accurate diagnosis is the first step toward effectively treating your symptoms. Onceyou talk with your physician about the condition and how he or she determined thatspondylolisthesis is the cause of your discomfort, you can work together to formulate anappropriate treatment plan suited to your lifestyle and the severity of your condition.Treatment will most likely begin conservatively (nonsurgically) and may include: • Pain medication • Physical therapy • Behavior modification • Ice packs and hot compresses • Gentle stretches • Low-impact exercise • Corticosteroid injections
Spondylolisthesis SurgeryMost patients with a spondylolisthesis diagnosis are able tomanage their symptoms nonsurgically. However, there will berare cases in which the severity of vertebral slippage and/orassociated neural compression may not be treatable withconservative therapies. If surgery does become an option foryou, the type of surgery for which you are a candidate willlargely depend on how far the vertebra has slipped out of place.Severe structural instability due to slippage of 50 percent ormore is usually only treatable with an open spine surgery likespinal fusion. In more mild cases where slight nerve compressionis present, minimally invasive laser spine surgery may be a viableoption.