Spondylolisthesis and degeneration from aging

Spondylolisthesis is when a vertebra slips over the vertebra beneath it. While the most common area where this happens is in the lower (lumbar) spine, it can occur in any area of the spine. Root causes include birth defects or traumatic injury, but the natural aging process or stress fractures are more common. Degenerative, or age-related, spondylolisthesis usually affects people over the age of 50 and can become even more common after age 65. As bones weaken and lose density, the spinal discs also lose water, elasticity and height, meaning proper alignment of the spine becomes more difficult to maintain.

Stages of spondylolisthesis

Physicians divide the degree of vertebral slippage from spondylolisthesis into grades. Grade 1 would indicate a 25 percent slippage, while a grade 4 could mean as much as 100 percent slippage. While it is possible to not have symptoms from this condition, more severe cases will cause painful nerve compression and abnormal spine curvature. Once your degenerative spondylolisthesis has been diagnosed and graded, it is important to partner with your physician to develop a care plan that can offer the best chance of meaningful relief and a return to a high quality of life.

Treatment options

Pain from lower-grade spondylolisthesis can often be effectively relieved with conservative treatments like pain medication, rest, back braces or massage. If surgery does become a necessary option, decompression procedures have proven effective for grades 1 and 2, while physicians may recommend fusion surgery for grades 3 to 5 in some cases. For age-related spondylolisthesis, any surgery that dramatically realigns the spine after what could have been years and years of gradual shifting could potentially do more harm than good. Complications could include an increased risk of fracture, immobility or the development of problems in other areas of the spine.

If you are considering traditional open back surgery and are anxious about these risks, reach out to Laser Spine Institute. We specialize in outpatient, minimally invasive spine surgery that uses advances in medical technology to make a more minimally invasive approach possible. Our highly skilled surgeons perform minimally invasive decompression and minimally invasive stabilization procedures that can treat a range of spondylolisthesis cases. Contact us today for a review of your MRI report or CT scan, and to learn more about our minimally invasive approach to spondylolisthesis pain.