Sometimes a vertebra can develop a defect, like a crack, on both sides of the bony ring of the spinal column. When that happens, the bone is weakened and cannot maintain its proper position. The defective vertebra can slip forward relative to the vertebra below it and cause a condition called spondylolisthesis.
In adults, the damaged vertebra typically does not slide completely off the vertebra below it. Teenagers, however, can develop a type of spondylolisthesis where that can happen.
When the vertebra slides forward, it can squeeze or pinch the nerve and lead to low back pain, muscle spasms, weakness, and tightened hamstrings. The forward slip can also make the spinal canal smaller, leaving less room for the nerve roots.
Pressure on the nerve can cause pain or numbness that radiates down to the foot. Some people also experience weakness in the muscles supplied by the nerve.
In addition to rest, your doctor may recommend physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the pain.
If these treatments don’t work or if your condition is severe enough, you may need a type of surgery that frees up (or decompresses) the nerves and restores the slipped vertebrae to its natural position. Another option is spinal fusion which joins two or more vertebrae together to provide stability to the spine.