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Spondylolisthesis and Dr Antonacci’s Approach

Here are over 9 facts you can learn about Degenerative and Isthmic Spondylolisthesis.

Spondylolisthesis is a spinal condition when one vertebra slips forward over another vertebra. Depending upon where in the spine the slip occurs, the type of condition can be considered Degenerative Spondylolisthesis or Isthmic Spondylolisthesis, discussed in more detail on their respective pages.

These slips are all classified using the Meyerding Grading System, based on the percentage that one vertebral body has slipped forward over the vertebral body below: a Grade I slip is considered the most mild, and a Grade V slip represents the vertebral body above completely slipping off the body below (called spondyloptosis).

Degenerative Spondylolisthesis

This type of spondylolisthesis is most common among older female patients, usually those over the age of 60. It is the result of degenerative changes in the vertebral structure that cause the joints between the vertebrae to slip forward, and as it worsens can lead to spinal stenosis.

Symptoms of degenerative spondylolisthesis may include the following:

  • Pain, especially after exercise, in the low back, thighs, and/or legs that radiates into the buttocks and/or down the legs (sciatica)
  • Muscle spasms
  • Leg weakness
  • Tight hamstring muscles
  • Irregular gait or limp

Some people with spondylolisthesis are symptom-free and only discover the disorder when seeing a doctor for another health problem. However, the forward slip of the vertebral body in severe cases of degenerative spondylolisthesis often leads to spinal stenosis, nerve compression, pain and neurological injury.

Causes

Degenerative spondylolisthesis is usually the result of age and “wear and tear” on the spine that breaks down vertebral components. It is different from isthmic spondylolisthesis in that there is no bone defect. Spinal stenosis tends to occur in the early stages of degenerative spondylolisthesis.

Diagnosis

Correct diagnosis is essential. Your doctor will utilize the latest diagnostic technologies, combined with examinations by expert physicians, to ensure that the diagnosis is accurate. Diagnostic tools include:

  • Medical history. You will be asked about your symptoms, their severity, and the treatments you have already tried.
  • Physical examination. You will be carefully examined for limitations of movement, problems with balance, pain, loss of reflexes in the extremities, muscle weakness, loss of sensation or other signs of neurological damage.
  • Diagnostic tests. Generally, doctors start with x-rays, which allow them to rule out other problems such as tumors and infections. They may also use a CT scan or MRI to confirm the diagnosis.

    In some patients a myelogram is used; this test involves the use of a liquid dye injected into the spinal column to show the degree of nerve compression, slippage between involved vertebrae, and abnormal movement.

Classification

There are several methods used to “grade” the degree of slippage ranging from mild to most severe. Your surgeon will discuss with you the extent of your spondylolisthesis.

In general, physicians use the Meyerding Grading System for classifying slips. This is a relatively easy to understand system; slips are graded on the basis of the percentage that one vertebral body has slipped forward over the vertebral body below.

Thus a Grade I slip indicates that 1-24% of the vertebral body has slipped forward over the body below. Grade II indicates a 25-49% slip, Grade III indicates a 50-74% slip, and Grade IV indicates a 75%-99% slip. If the body completely slips off the body below it is classified as a Grade V slip, known as spondyloptosis.

Your physician will consider the degree of slip, and such factors as intractable pain and neurological symptoms, when deciding on the most suitable treatment. Most degenerative spondylolisthesis cases involve Grade I or Grade II. As a general guideline, the more severe slips (especially Grades III and above) are most likely to require surgical intervention.

Non-Operative Treatment of Degenerative Spondylolisthesis

For many early cases of degenerative spondylolisthesis, treatment consists of temporary bed rest, restriction of the activities that caused the onset of symptoms, pain/anti-inflammatory medications, steroid-anesthetic injections, physical therapy and/or spinal bracing.

Degenerative spondylolisthesis can be progressive, meaning the damage will continue to get worse as time goes on. In addition, degenerative spondylolisthesis can cause stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal and spinal cord compression. If the stenosis is severe, and all non-operative treatments have failed, surgery may be necessary.

Surgical Treatment of Degenerative Spondylolisthesis

Surgery is needed when there is persistent severe pain, or when neurological damage has occurred or non-operative treatment options have failed.

The most common surgical procedure used by Dr. Antonacci for treatment, is one he also pioneered. It is the muscle sparing approach to interbody fusion (FLIF). Unlike FLIF, traditional approaches detach back muscle such as when a laminectomy is performed in combination with fusion.

Here, the spinal canal is widened by removing or trimming the laminae (roof) of the vertebrae. This is done to create more space for the nerves and relieve pressure on the spinal cord. The surgeon may also need to fuse vertebrae together. If fusion is done, various devices (like screws or interbody cages) may be implanted to enhance fusion and support the unstable spine.

Dr. Antonacci’s’ approach which is muscle sparing, has less blood loss and faster recovery times, without compromising in anyway, visualization or nerve decompression.

Isthmic Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is a condition of spinal instability, in which one vertebra slips forward over the vertebra below; isthmic spondylolisthesis, the most common form, is caused by a bony defect (or fracture) in an area of the pars interarticularis, located in the roof (laminae) of the vertebral structure.

Treatment options for isthmic spondylolisthesis may be non-surgical for lesser cases, and the more severe cases may require surgery including spinal fusion.

Symptoms of Isthmic Spondylolithesis, Most Commonly Affecting the 4th and 5th Lumbar Vertebrae (L4 and L5) and the 1st Sacral Vertebra (S1) which occurs in approximately 4% of the population, may include the following:

  • Pain in the low back, thighs, and/or legs (especially after exercise) that radiates into the buttocks
  • Muscle spasms
  • Leg pain or weakness
  • Tight hamstring muscles
  • Irregular gait

Some people are symptom-free and only discover the disorder when seeing a doctor for another health problem. In severe cases, the condition may cause swayback and a protruding abdomen, a shortened torso, and a waddling gait.

Causes

Isthmic spondylolisthesis can be the result of a genetic failure of bone formation in the spinal vertebrae; usually physical stresses to the spine then break down the weak or insufficiently formed vertebral components.

Repeated heavy lifting, stooping, or twisting can cause small fractures to occur in the vertebral structure and lead to the slippage of one vertebra over another. Weightlifters, football players, and gymnasts often suffer from this disorder due to the considerable stress placed on their spines.

While it may not be possible to prevent all spine problems, there are things you can do to help keep your spine healthy. The most important prevention method is to avoid or limit those work or recreational activities that cause considerable stress to your spine.

Losing weight, starting a regular exercise regimen, not smoking, and learning proper body mechanics can all help reduce the risk of further back problems.

Diagnosis

To make an accurate diagnosis, your physician will conduct a careful and rigorous diagnostic process, including:

  • Medical history. The physician will talk to you about your symptoms, how severe they are, and what treatments you have already tried.
  • Physical examination. You will be carefully examined for limitations of movement, problems with balance, and pain. During this exam, the doctor will also look for loss of reflexes in the extremities, muscle weakness, loss of sensation or other signs of neurological damage.
  • Diagnostic tests. Generally, doctors start with plain x-rays, which allow us to rule out other problems such as tumors and infections. We may also use a CT scan or MRI to confirm the diagnosis. In some patients we may need a myelogram, a test that uses a liquid dye injected into the spinal column to show the degree of nerve compression and slippage between involved vertebrae.

Grading Slippage

There are several methods used to “grade” the degree of slippage ranging from mild to most severe. Your surgeon will discuss with you the extent of your spondylolisthesis and how the severity indicates the type of treatment that is needed.

In general, most physicians use the Meyerding Grading System for classifying slips. This is a relatively easy to understand system. Slips are graded on the basis of the percentage that one vertebral body has slipped forward over the vertebral body below.

Grading Slippage for an Isthmic Spondylolisthesis
  • Grade I slip indicates that 1-24% of the vertebral body has slipped forward over the body below.
  • Grade II indicates a 25-49% slip
  • Grade III indicates a 50-74% slip
  • Grade IV indicates a 75%-99% slip.
  • If the body completely slips off the body below it is classified as a Grade V slip, known as spondyloptosis.

Your physician will consider the degree of slip, and such factors as intractable pain and neurological symptoms, when deciding on the most suitable treatment. As a general guideline, the more severe slips (especially Grades III and above) are most likely to require surgical intervention.

Non-Operative Treatment

For most cases of isthmic spondylolisthesis (especially Grades I and II), treatment consists of temporary bed rest, restriction of the activities that caused the onset of symptoms, pain/anti-inflammatory medications, steroid-anesthetic injections, physical therapy and/or spinal bracing.

Surgical Treatment

The most common surgical procedure used by Dr. Antonacci for treatment, is one he also pioneered. It is the muscle sparing approach to interbody fusion (FLIF).

Unlike FLIF, traditional approaches detach back muscle such as when a laminectomy is performed in combination with fusion. Here, the spinal canal is widened by removing or trimming the laminae (roof) of the vertebrae. This is done to create more space for the nerves and relieve pressure on the spinal cord.

The surgeon may also need to fuse vertebrae together. If fusion is done, various devices (like screws or interbody cages) may be implanted to enhance fusion and support the unstable spine. Dr. Antonacci’s’ approach which is muscle sparing, has less blood loss and faster recovery times, without compromising in anyway, visualization or nerve decompression.


Learn about FLIF—Far Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion: Dr. Antonacci’s Approach

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