Spondylolisthesis is often caused by aging

Spondylolisthesis has many potential causes, ranging from injury to birth defects to disease. This condition can also result from spinal disc degeneration and facet joint degeneration that commonly occurs as a result of aging. As the discs, facet joints and other parts of the spine deteriorate over time, they lose their ability to fully support the vertebrae. The resulting instability can force one of the vertebrae to slip out of place and start to slide over the vertebra below it, which is why the term spondylolisthesis means “slipped vertebral body” in Latin.

The condition most commonly occurs in the lumbar spine, which includes nerves that travel to the lower body. If the slipped vertebra in the lumbar spine compacts the spinal column and presses on nerve tissue, it can cause pain, weakness and other debilitating symptoms in the lower back, hips and legs. Patients who have been diagnosed with degenerative spondylolisthesis can benefit from understanding the main causes of the condition in order to make informed decisions about what treatments to seek.

Spinal disc degeneration

Spinal discs rest between the vertebrae, providing cushioning and absorbing shock from everyday movements. As we age, these discs lose their water content, causing them to lose height and elasticity. This reduced size minimizes the space between the vertebrae they separate, thereby placing additional pressure on the facet joints that meet at the back of the spine. Increased stress on the facet joints can cause a vertebra to slip out of place.

Facet joint degeneration

Facet joint arthritis also commonly causes degenerative spondylolisthesis. While the normal aging process is the biggest reason why osteoarthritis occurs, genetics, injuries and other factors can contribute to osteoarthritis in the facet joints, breaking down the cartilage that normally protects the bones against friction. When this cartilage wears away, the bones that form the facet joints will lose their ability to stabilize the spine, placing stress on the vertebrae and potentially causing one or more of them to slip from their normal position in the spine.

Treatment options

Upon diagnosing this condition, most doctors will start with an initial round of conservative treatment to improve symptoms and mobility. This usually includes options like physical therapy, rest, pain medication, massage and wearing a back brace. Surgery can become an option if weeks or months of conservative treatment do not bring the relief necessary for a return to normal, comfortable activity.

If you have been recommended for surgery but have concerns about undergoing a traditional open neck or back surgery, reach out to Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive spine surgery uses a less than 1-inch incision and is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine procedures.^

For a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures, contact our dedicated team of Spine Care Consultants today.