retrolisthesis overview

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what is retrolisthesis?

Retrolisthesis is a dysfunction of the joint that occurs when a vertebra in the back slips backward underneath or along a disc. It occurs in the neck or shoulder area known as the cervical spine, in the lower back knows as the lumbar spine, or in the stomach region known as the thoracic spine. The slippage has to be over 2 mm for it to be categorised as retrolisthesis. This is a rare occurrence as compared to the commonly occurring spondylolisthesis, which happens when a vertebra shifts forward.  

It can occur due to several causes like arthritis, injuries like trauma and fracture to the spine, weakness of muscles in the spinal area or the abdomen, rickets, and osteoporosis, bones infections, genetic defects, blood infections, etc. 

what are the symptoms of retrolisthesis?

The symptoms of retrolisthesis depend on factors like the spot where the movement has occurred and your overall health. Some of the most common signs to look out for include:

  • Bulging or other distortions in the spinal area. 
  • Constant back pain. 
  • Inability to move freely. 
  • Feelings of numbness, sharp pain, or tingling in your hips, legs, thighs, neck, shoulders, arms, etc. 

how is retrolisthesis diagnosed?

Once you detail your symptoms to the doctor, she/he will review your medical history and general health. If she/he suspects retrolisthesis, you will be recommended a lateral X-Ray. This will give the doctor a clear picture of the changes in the vertebrae and how far has the slippage happened. X-Rays can help in outlining additional symptoms that may not be apparent during the physical examination. 

If the X-Ray fails to give conclusive outcomes, retrolisthesis radiology will be suggested to assess the presence of the condition. 

how is retrolisthesis treated and the role of physiotherapy?

Retrolisthesis is a degenerative condition that cannot be cured. The treatments are designed to cure patients of the pain and discomfort that they experience and to manage the symptoms. 

Depending on certain factors like the grade of retrolisthesis affecting you, risk of progression, and the severity of the condition your doctor will advise the best line of treatment. Your doctor will also assess retrolisthesis contradictions and while deciding the treatment. Some of the most common ways to treat retrolisthesis include:

  • Medications: Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory non-steroid medications to help ease pain. These may also include muscle relaxant medications. 
  • Improving nutrition: Following healthy dietary practices can go a long way in repairing soft tissues that have been damaged in the spinal area. Your doctor may prescribe a diet rich in Vitamins A, C, and D and minerals like copper, manganese, zinc, etc. If you are overweight, your doctor may advise a low-calorie diet. Reduction in excess weight automatically reduces the stress on the spine. 
  • Surgery: In case non-surgical treatments don’t work due to the severity of retrolisthesis affecting you, your doctor may advise surgery. Surgeries include spine stabilization using instruments and spinal fusion. Retrolisthesis after spinal fusion has shown great results in the past in preventing the condition from worsening and further degeneration. 
  • Other therapies may include applying heat or ice packs and microcurrent therapy to reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation. 

how can physiotherapy help?

For retrolisthesis, physiotherapy is considered to be one of the best lines of treatment. Combinations of exercises help in not only enhancing the strength of the muscles but also in improving muscular balance, flexibility, mobility, and offering relief from pain. This includes the use of manual, exercise, and electrotherapies.  

Physiotherapists create customised retrolisthesis exercise plans that include:

  • Core exercises: These are done to take the pressure off the spine and reducing the pain in the lower back and the hip area. 
  • Extension exercises: These exercises are done to improve the strength of the extensor muscles of the hips and spine and in improving the spine’s mobility.
  • Spinal exercises: These exercises are specially designed to alleviate the pain and rehabilitate the spine to prevent further degeneration. They also help in keeping the muscles, ligaments, and joints healthy in the long run. 
  • Balance training: This training includes methods like hydrotherapy and sensomotoric training on unstable devices to promote walking in several variations and improving coordination skills.
  • Isometric and isotonic exercises: They help in strengthening the main muscles of the trunk and in stabilizing the spine. These exercises not only help in pain management but also in preventing further degeneration.
  • Stretching exercises: These exercises help in decreasing the extension forces on the lumbar spine due to the tightening of muscles or weakness. 
  • Cardiovascular exercises: These exercises help in maintaining overall health.
  • Stabilization exercises: These exercises are important in re-training the deep core muscles and maintaining their strength. 

Additionally, physiotherapy also goes a long way in preventing further degeneration of the condition by educating patients about posture, ergonomics, and lifting techniques. Your therapists will advice and train you on:

  • Maintaining a good posture while sitting, sleeping, driving, and walking. 
  • Following correct lifting techniques to avoid overstretching the spinal ligaments and straining the spinal discs. 

what is the role of a physiotherapist

An experienced physiotherapist is critical in the effective management of retrolisthesis. In the absence of a dedicated therapist, it is difficult to design and maintain an exercise plan for yourself. The critical role played by a therapist includes:

  • She/he will design a customised exercise plan depending on the severity of your condition and requirements. She/he will advice on which retrolisthesis exercises to avoid and the ones that need to be included in your treatment plan.
  • She/he will help you in sticking to the exercise plan.
  • The therapist will assess the efficacy of each exercise and suggest modifications when required. 
  • She/he will educate your caregivers about your exercise plan so that continuity is maintained. 
  • The presence of the therapist is critical in catching the side effects of any particular exercise and in administering treatment for pains and discomfort that you might feel because of that. 
  • She/he will also guide you regarding your lifestyle, diet, weight, etc. and advice about how to maintain good overall health. 

how can portea help?

Portea, amongst the most credible healthcare companies in India, that brings compassionate care right to your home, makes accessing healthcare easy and affordable especially for conditions like retrolisthesis:

Some ways in which we help you heal faster include:

  • We offer the services of physiotherapists that are qualified, experienced, and chosen only after rigorous screening tests. 
  • We offer in-home physiotherapy that’s personalised, convenient, safe, and cost-effective. 
  • Your physiotherapy is completely customised and planned to keep in mind your physical condition, requirements, home setup, etc.
  • With Portea’s dedicated physiotherapy services, you can expect a faster healing process.  
  • Our therapists involve your caregivers (family and friends) in your treatment plan. 
  • We answer any questions that you might have about the qualifications of the therapists, pricing, etc. 
  • Our in-home physiotherapy is found to be more economical as compared to the therapy that you would undergo at a hospital or a clinic. This is especially beneficial when you have been advised this for a long run. 
  • Our therapists visit you as per your convenience without interrupting your daily schedule. 
  • We use the latest physiotherapy techniques and exercises to offer the best healing in the shortest possible time.


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Mr. Mahesh

I had a serious L4 & L5 disc prolapse when I sought Portea’s physiotherapy. Thanks a lot to Dr. Amitava and Portea for their prompt service. Keep up the good work.


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