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Spondylolisthesis Treatment

What Does Spondylolisthesis Mean?

Spondylolisthesis is a condition that occurs when one of the vertebrae in the spine slips out of place and onto the vertebra below it. This displacement can result in compression of nerves, leading to pain, weakness, and numbness in the back and legs. Spondylolisthesis can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, trauma, or degenerative changes in the spine.

What is Spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis is a common issue with the spine that can happen when there is instability, enabling the vertebrae to move more than they are meant to. This usually occurs in the lower back, which is known as the lumbar spine. Therefore, this condition is also called lumbar spondylolisthesis. When the movement of the vertebra happens, it can cause pain in the lower back or legs when the slipped vertebra puts pressure on nearby nerves. As a result, it can be difficult to walk, stand, sit, or work comfortably. It’s crucial to address these symptoms promptly to maintain productivity and well-being.

Difference Between Spondylolisthesis and Spondylolysis

Spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis are both spinal conditions with similar names, but separate causes and symptoms.


This refers to a weakness or small fracture in a vertebra, usually in the lower back but sometimes extending to the mid-back or neck. It often affects children and teenagers, especially those involved in sports like football or gymnastics that strain the lower spine repeatedly. Sometimes, spondylolysis can lead to spondylolisthesis due to the weakened structure.


On the other hand, spondylolisthesis involves the displacement of a vertebra. It can be categorized into different types based on its causes. The most common type is degenerative spondylolisthesis, which happens due to age-related changes in the discs between the vertebrae, causing them to degenerate and the vertebrae to slip.

Another type is isthmic spondylolisthesis, which results from spondylolysis, often affecting people involved in sports or those born with certain spinal abnormalities.

There are also other types like congenital, traumatic, pathological, and postsurgical spondylolisthesis, each caused by different factors.

Understanding these distinctions is essential, especially for individuals who are involved in physically demanding jobs or sports, as it can help them recognize symptoms early and seek appropriate spondylolisthesis treatment to prevent further complications.

Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis symptoms differ among individuals.

While some cases may not show any signs, others may experience any of the following common symptoms as a result of nerve compression:

  • Lower back pain
  • Tight muscles
  • Discomfort in the buttocks
  • Leg pain
  • Pain made worse by movement
  • Tight hamstrings, making standing or walking difficult

These symptoms can affect productivity and daily activities. It’s essential to recognize and address them promptly to maintain comfort and the ability to perform normally at work for those employed in physically demanding jobs.

Causes of Spondylolisthesis

There are several potential causes of spondylolisthesis, including:

  • Genetics: Some people may be genetically predisposed to developing spondylolisthesis due to abnormalities in their spinal structure.
  • Trauma: Spondylolisthesis can also be caused by trauma or injury to the spine, such as a car accident or a fall.
  • Repetitive Stress: Activities that put repeated stress on the spine, such as weightlifting or gymnastics, can increase the risk of developing spondylolisthesis.
  • Degenerative Changes: As we age, the discs and joints in our spine can deteriorate, leading to instability and the possibility of vertebrae slipping.
  • Congenital Defects: Some people are born with defects in their spine that make them more prone to spondylolisthesis.
  • Certain Medical Conditions: Conditions such as arthritis or osteoporosis can weaken the bones and ligaments in the spine, making them more susceptible to slipping.

Individuals with spondylolisthesis need to work with their spine doctor to determine the underlying cause of their condition and develop an appropriate treatment plan. This may include physical therapy, medication, or bracing, depending on the severity of symptoms and degree of slippage. In extreme cases, where less invasive methods are not successful, you may be considered for surgical intervention. By addressing the root cause of spondylolisthesis, you will be better able to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Diagnosis of Spondylolisthesis

Diagnosis of spondylolisthesis is made following a comprehensive evaluation of clinical symptoms and your medical history. Your doctor may also order certain diagnostic imaging tests, like X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans, which can help visualize the displaced vertebra and determine the severity of the problem, confirming an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.

Healthcare providers often use grading systems to determine how severe spondylolisthesis is. One common system is Meyerding’s classification, which sorts spondylolisthesis into five grades based on how much the vertebra has slipped. Grades I and II are for mild to moderate displacement, while grades III to V indicate a more severe problem.

Treatment for Spondylolisthesis

The treatment your specialist doctor will recommend for spondylolisthesis depends on several factors, including the severity of the condition, the symptoms being presented, and your specific experience. For mild cases, non-surgical approaches like rest, medication, injections, physical therapy, and bracing may be sufficient.

More severe cases of spondylolisthesis or persistent symptoms may require surgery as a last resort. Surgical options may include procedures like spinal decompression, spinal fusion, or pars repair, which aims to relieve nerve compression and stabilize the spine.

Following surgery, patients typically undergo a period of rest and rehabilitation to aid in their recovery. Physical therapy, typically initiated a few weeks post-surgery, focuses on restoring muscle and skeletal function and improving mobility to facilitate a return to normal activities. Regular follow-up appointments are essential for our doctors to monitor progress and address any new concerns, ensuring the best possible outcomes and reducing the risk of complications.

Spondylolisthesis is a complex spinal condition that can cause a range of symptoms from mild discomfort to severe pain. Early diagnosis and tailored management based on individual patient needs are crucial for symptom relief and optimal results. By considering both non-surgical and surgical options and addressing the underlying causes, our spine doctors at PBSSM will help individuals with spondylolisthesis work towards improved spinal health and a better quality of life.

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of this condition, schedule an appointment at Princeton Brain, Spine & Sports Medicine, with clinics located conveniently throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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