Retrolisthesis: symptoms, treatment and more

What is retrolistesis?

Retrolisthesis, or the backward sliding of a vertebra, is an uncommon joint dysfunction. A vertebra is a small bony disc that produces the vertebrae, a series of small bones that make up the spine. Each vertebra is separated by a cushion of intervertebral discs, which are made of cartilage.

Retrolistesis occurs when a single vertebra slides and retracts along the intervertebral disc below or above it. It is not the same as a dislocation. If the vertebra slips forward, it is called spondylolisthesis.

There are three types of retrolistheses. They are based on the displacement of the vertebra in relation to the adjacent vertebra.

  • Complete retrolistesis: A vertebra moves backward to both spinal segments up and down.

  • Partial retrolisthesis: A vertebra moves back toward a spinal segment below or above.

  • Stepped retrysthesis: A vertebra moves backwards to the body of a segment of the column located above, but in front of the one below.

The retrolistheses are typically found in the cervical spine (shoulder and neck region), the lumbar region (lower back and pelvis) and the thoracic spine (stomach region), although this is less common. Doctors measure the displacement in millimeters.

Signs and symptoms of retrolistesis

The symptoms depend on factors such as the individual, the place where the slip occurs and the nervous tissues, joints of the spine and other affected tissues.

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • restlessness in an area of ​​the back

  • distortion of the spine or a bump on the back

  • Limited range of motion

  • Back pain

  • Other forms of pain in the displacement region.

You may also feel numbness, tingling, or a sharp, pinched pain in your:

  • hips

  • thighs

  • legs

  • buttocks

  • neck

  • shoulder

  • arms

What causes retrolistesis?

The retrolistesis occurs due to the decrease in height between the vertebrae or the decrease in the height of the intervertebral discs. Scientists are not entirely sure what causes the intervertebral discs to shorten, but some conditions and factors include:

  • birth defects in children

  • Arthritis, which weakens bones.

  • Stress and traumatic fractures.

  • nutritional deficiencies of materials that maintain bone strength and repair discs, cartilage and nerves

  • injury in or around the spine

  • Infections in the blood or bones.

  • Weak central muscles that do not stabilize the back enough.

  • Other diseases that weaken bones, including osteoporosis and rickets.

How will your doctor do the retrolisthesis test?

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. But the best way to diagnose retrolistesis is through a lateral X-ray of the spine. Your doctor will not be able to see retrolisthesis if the x-ray is taken while you are lying down.

Your doctor will evaluate your x-rays by measuring the slip between the vertebral discs. Draw several lines on the image of your vertebra and measure the distance between the lines. A distance of 2 millimeters or more is a sign of retrolistesis.

Other X-ray findings that are associated with retrolistesis include:

  • Phenomenon of vacuum, or the accumulation of gas between discs and vertebrae.

  • disc height reduction

  • Hardening of the artery around the vertebra.

  • bone spur formation

How is retrolistesis treated?

The goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation and pain. The treatment involves a variety of methods depending on how severe the condition is and how other tissues and discs may be affected.

Surgery is only necessary if non-surgical treatments are not effective. Your orthopedists and your doctor will see if there will be long-term spinal and neurological damage before recommending surgery. Spinal surgery aims to reduce slippage, pain, instability and more.

Non-surgical treatments involve:

  • Strengthening the spine with a physiotherapist

  • Physiotherapy to strengthen the back and the central muscles.

  • Myofascial release or massages that help restore muscle tone and improve circulation.

  • Microcurrent therapy, which uses low-level electrical currents to reduce swelling, inflammation and pain.

  • applying heat pads for pain


Get enough nutrition so that your body can repair damaged soft tissues. Eat foods that are rich in:

  • Copper, like green vegetables, peanut butter and peas.

  • calcium, such as dairy products, dark green vegetables and sardines

  • Vitamin D, such fortified cereals, milk and bread.

  • manganese, like bananas

  • vitamin A, such as carrots, melon and spinach

  • vitamin C, such as lemons, oranges and broccoli

  • zinc, such as pork, lamb and nuts

  • Proteins and amino acids, such as meats, soybeans and lentils.

It may be helpful to talk with a dietitian to find out which levels of each nutrient are best for you. Eating well can also help control weight. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can help reduce the pressure on your vertebra.

Exercises and physiotherapy for retrolistesis.

Your doctor may recommend a physical therapist who can also teach you techniques to lift, bend, and sit. Exercise and physiotherapy can help control weight. They can also improve:

  • mobility

  • flexibility

  • force

  • pain relief

Exercises that target the right areas include walking, yoga and Pilates. The exercises you can try at home include:

  • pelvic sitting leans on a ball

  • Ab Ab

  • hip extensions

  • low back rolls

To learn how to do these exercises, take a look at the exercises for lordosis.

You can also practice good posture while working and avoid sitting with your hips and knees bent.

How to prevent retrolistesis

Retrolisthesis is not always preventable, but there are steps you can take to minimize your risk. Try these tips.

Prevention tips

  • Maintain a healthy diet and weight for optimal bone health and reduced back tension.

  • Strengthen your core muscles with pelvic tilt exercises. A strong core reduces tension in the back.

  • Practice good posture when sitting and standing.

  • Practice yoga, which improves posture, core strength and back alignment.

  • Avoid forcing the back by hyperextension or placing too much weight on it.

  • Refrain from smoking. Tobacco can cause joint damage over time.

Many of these methods also benefit your overall health. Talk to a doctor if you suspect problems with your spine.

Keep reading: back stretches you can do on your desk »

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