Retrolisthesis is a joint dysfunction characterized by the backward slipping of a single vertebra in the spine. Retrolistheis is relatively uncommon and is the opposite of spondylolisthesis, which occurs when the vertebra moves forward. Retrolisthesis is most commonly observed in the cervical and lumbar spine. The cervical spine is the region of the spine near the neck and shoulder, while the thoracic spine refers to the central column of the spine between the neck and lower back and the lumbar spine refers to the spine in the lower back. Though uncommon, it is possible to develop Retrolisthesis in the thoracic spine as well. The movement of a vertebra by more than 2 millimeters backward is called Retrolisthesis.
Retrolisthesis occurs in three types. Firstly, when one vertebra moves backward in relation to the vertebra above and below it, it is called complete Retrolisthesis. Second is partial Retrolisthesis, where one vertebra slips back towards either the one above or under it. Lastly is staircase Retrolisthesis where one vertebra moves behind the vertebra above it and ahead of the one under it.
Retrolisthesis occurs due to a reduction in space between the spinal vertebrae. This can occur due to shrinkage of the discs between the bones as well. Doctors suspect that a bunch of problems can cause shrinkage in the space between the vertebrae. Conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and nutritional deficiencies can lead to Retrolisthesis. Along with this, age-related degeneration of the spine, congenital disabilities, injuries concerning the spine, weakened muscles at the core of the body, or infections may also reduce space between spinal vertebrae.
Retrolisthesis can have a varied set and intensity of symptoms based on many factors of the patient. Symptoms usually include mild to severe back pain, reduced range of motion, pain at the area of Retrolisthesis, pinching pain one specific area of the back, and bulging in the back near the spine. Since Retrolisthesis affects the spine and the spine is responsible for the communication between the brain and body, patients may experience extended symptoms in other parts of their body. Patients may experience tingling, numbness, and pain in their hips, shoulders, arms, legs, thighs, and neck. Spondylolisthesis has many similar symptoms, besides the fact that the affected vertebra moves forward rather than back.
The diagnosis of Retrolisthesis requires careful examination. A doctor may review a person’s general health and medical history. After fully understanding the range of symptoms the patient is experiencing, a doctor may request an X-ray to view the vertebrae’s positioning in the spine. In the case of Retrolisthesis, certain vertebrae may be shifted back from their original position, which lets the doctor confirm the problem. The doctor may also look for signs of hardened arteries around the vertebrae, decreased height of discs, and gas trapped near the spinal region.
Depending on the severity of Retrolisthesis, a variety of treatments is available. Nonsurgical methods include physical therapy. Exercises involving the training of the back and abdominal muscles and stretching may be suggested. Stretching along with massages can help increase blood circulation and muscle toning. The application of heating pads or ice packs can help reduce inflammation, along with microcurrent therapy and the use of anti-inflammatory drugs. If these treatments do not show results and improve the patient’s condition, surgery may be necessary as a last resort.