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Chiropractic Care for Spondylolisthesis

Chiropractic care is a non-surgical treatment option for spondylolisthesis (a forward slippage of a vertebra). If you have spondylolisthesis, chiropractic care may help reduce your back pain.

How Does a Chiropractor Diagnose Spondylolisthesis?
Your chiropractor will evaluate your spine as a whole—regardless of whether you complain of chronic low back pain or other spondylolisthesis symptoms. He or she will evaluate the entire spine because even though your low back hurts, other regions of the spine may be affected as well.

The chiropractor will determine the areas with restricted joint motion, disc injury, muscle spasm, and ligament injury. He or she can do this through techniques called motion and static palpation, which is an examination by means of touch. The chiropractor will feel for tightness, tenderness, and how well each of the spinal joints can move.

At the initial exam, your chiropractor will take an extensive history and do a comprehensive examination that will most likely include an x-ray to determine the degree of spondylolisthesis.

He or she will also examine your walk and look at your overall posture and spinal alignment, which will help your chiropractor understand your body mechanics and how well your spine is working and moving.

Chiropractors grade the extent of spondylolisthesis using special imaging tests, such as x-rays, but some patients with spondylolisthesis need a referral to a spine surgeon for further evaluation.

Chiropractic Care and Spondylolisthesis
The main goals of chiropractor care for treating spondylolisthesis are to optimize good spinal mechanics and to improve posture and alignment.

Chiropractors do not reduce the slippage of spondylolisthesis. Instead, they address the spinal joints above and below the slipped vertebra—helping to address the mechanical and neurological causes of spondylolisthesis. This can help relieve low back pain and improve motion in the region.

Chiropractic Treatments for Spondylolisthesis
Your treatment plan depends on your symptoms. Your chiropractor may use one of the various types of spinal manipulation (also referred to as a spinal adjustment)—an active, hands-on technique that helps restore motion to the spine—to improve joint motion. Spinal manipulation techniques your chiropractor may use include:

  • Specific spinal manipulation identifies the joints that are restricted or those that show abnormal motion. This gentle thrusting technique returns motion to the joint by stretching the soft tissue and stimulating the nervous system.
  • Flexion-distraction technique is a gentle, non-thrusting type of manipulation usually used for degenerative disc conditions and facet strain that may be related to spondylolisthesis. This treatment is hands-on and uses a specialized table to assist the chiropractor, but instead of direct force, it’s a slow pumping action.
  • Instrument-assisted manipulation is another non-thrusting technique. With this technique, the chiropractor applies force using a hand-held instrument without thrusting into the spine—especially appropriate in older patients who have a degenerative joint condition.

Your chiropractor may also use manual therapy—in addition to spinal manipulation—to treat injured soft tissues such as muscles.

  • Trigger point therapy helps the chiropractor identify specific hypertonic (tight), painful points on a muscle. He or she puts pressure (using his or her fingers) on these points to reduce the tension.
  • Manual joint stretching and resistance techniques, such as muscle energy therapy, can be used.
  • Instrument-assisted soft tissue therapy can help treat injured soft tissue of the spine. Graston technique is an example of an instrument-assisted soft tissue therapy that your chiropractor may use.

In addition to spinal manipulation and manual therapy techniques, the chiropractor may also use various therapy modalities to help reduce inflammation caused by conditions associated with spondylolisthesis.

  • Interferential electrical stimulation uses a low frequency electrical current to stimulate your muscles to decrease inflammation.
  • Ultrasound helps reduce muscle spasms, stiffness, and back pain by increasing circulation. It does this by sending sound waves deep into muscle tissues, creating a gentle heat.

Therapeutic exercises are also an important part of chiropractic care for spondylolisthesis. Your chiropractor will prescribe specific exercises to help promote stability. Corrective spinal care and exercises can help minimize hyperlordosis and also help address inflammation and pain caused by spondylolisthesis.

How Does a Chiropractor Help Treat Spondylolisthesis?
Although your chiropractor will use various techniques to help you increase daily activities, chiropractors emphasize prevention as the key to overall health. Your chiropractor can’t reduce the grade of spondylolisthesis, but he or she will work to address any underlying mechanical or neurological causes of spondylolisthesis.

Updated on: 12/21/11
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