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  • Writer's pictureRobin R Varghese, PT.

This ain't no RETRO style, but debilitating RETROLISTHESIS!!! You can get over this pain too.

Updated: Oct 29, 2022


  • If the vertebrae remain in a healthy and neutral alignment, the spine can maintain its natural and healthy curvatures to function optimally; however, if the spine becomes misaligned due to a vertebra shifting out of alignment with the rest of the spine, problems can occur.

  • The vertebrae are separated by the spine’s intervertebral discs that provide cushioning so they do not rub against each other and create friction, facilitate flexible movement, help absorb/distribute stress, and help hold the parts of the spine together.

  • Vertebral movement as little as 2 millimeters can disrupt the spine’s alignment and biomechanics.

  • When a vertebral bone slips over another bone, we call it retrolisthesis. It is otherwise, it is the backward slippage of a vertebra.

  • Retrolisthesis occurs when a single vertebra slips and moves back along the intervertebral disc underneath or above it.

  • It involves the degeneration of the spine’s intervertebral discs leading to loss of disc space causing narrowing of the spinal canal, which can interfere with nerve transmission of messages from the brain and cause nerve compression and the related symptoms of pain and a reduced range of motion in the spine.

Retrolisthesis is a spinal condition characterized by joint dysfunction that occurs when a single vertebra (spinal bone) shifts backward or underneath an intervertebral disc. Retrolisthesis develops in the cervical or lumbar spine.

Are there any types of retrolistheses?.

They are classified on the displacement of the vertebra in relation to adjacent vertebra.

  • Complete retrolisthesis. One vertebra moves backward to both the spinal segments above and below.

  • Partial retrolisthesis. One vertebra moves backward to a spinal segment either below or above.

  • Stair stepped retrolisthesis. One vertebra moves backward to the body of a spinal segment located above, but ahead of the one below.

What are the contributing factors and the symptoms?

Contributing factors:

  • Spinal-degeneration issues

  • Arthritis

  • Congenital abnormalities

  • Spinal injury or trauma

  • Blood/bone infections

  • Nutritional deficiencies

  • Weakened core and spinal muscles

Symptoms include:

  • General back pain

  • Localized back pain

  • A decreased range of motion

  • Sharp pinching pain related to nerve compression

  • A noticeable bulge in the spine

  • In more severe cases, symptoms can also be felt in areas other than the back, with some experiencing feelings of numbness and/or tingling in shoulders, neck, arms, legs, thighs, hips and buttocks

  • If retrolisthesis has caused the narrowing of the spinal canal, the discs and spinal nerves can become compressed and irritated, and this can cause varying levels of back pain. This pain can be felt throughout the body along the paths of the spinal nerves too.

Spinal conditions like retrolisthesis need to be assessed and treated proactively and effectively.

How can Physical therapy be helpful in treating Retrolisthesis?

  1. Use of traction table, manual therapy, TENS and heat therapy can also be effective at managing pain and spasms/trigger points by creating negative pressure and space, reducing spasm and trigger points, improving circulation and easing discomfort, respectively. Microcurrent therapy can also be used to reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain.

  2. Wearing a brace or corset. To prevent lumbar retrolisthesis from worsening, wearing a brace or corset can help repair the damaged spinal tissue. This is encouraged until the abdominal muscles are strengthened through exercises. A brace will help in maintaining the posture, which later is to carried on by the strengthened muscle.

  3. Exercise. Once pain has subsided and spine is stabilized, Targeted condition-specific exercises can activate certain areas of the brain for a better brain-body connection and increase overall strength and spinal support. Improper exercises can worsen your listhesis and may even damage your spinal cord. Do exercises only under the supervision of a therapist.

Strengthening the abdominal and lumbar muscles can improve posture, thus relieve pain and repair damaged tissue. These exercises can prevent further damage to the backbone.

Exercise will also help in boosting the endorphin levels, which will reduce depression and anxiety.

  • Spinal extension exercises can improve the strength and endurance of your spine and hip muscles and also boost your spine’s ability to move.

  • Core exercises will take pressure off your spine. It also improves an effective spine bracing.

  • Pelvic tilt exercises will help in strengthening back and abdominal muscles without straining the spine.

  • Strengthening pelvic floor muscles helps in bracing the spine.

  • Good posture while sitting and standing

  • Lower back rolls allow your lower back to stretch. However, these are not recommended if your lumbar retrolisthesis has already caused moderate to severe damage to your lower spine.

Mobility and flexibility exercises will make it easier to move spine and boost disc nutrition. Combined with abdominal exercises, physical therapy helps in strengthening ligaments, muscles and bones and boost the ability of the joint cartilage to absorb nutrients.

Therefore, physical therapy can make it less likely for one to develop lumbar retrolisthesis and make the recovery process faster and smoother for those who have the condition.

We provide the best Physical Therapy Treatment for Spinal Retrolisthesis at Valley Healing Hands, Brownsville, Texas and we are proud of the skills and expertise of our highly qualified therapists who can handle all spine related conditions with ease. Check out what our patients has to say about us and Reach out to us for an evaluation. Patients love our services, You will too!

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