How sports participation causes spondylolisthesis

By Michael Perry, M.D.

There are many causes of spondylolisthesis — a condition in which one of the spinal vertebrae slips out of its normal place in the spine. This can be caused by many different factors, such as aging, weight, genetics and traumatic injury. One group in danger of developing this condition is athletes. This is because of the amount of stress certain sports place on the spine, as well as the risk of traumatic injury that can be involved.

Whether you have been diagnosed with spondylolisthesis or are trying to prevent this condition from developing, learning about the causes can be very helpful. While physical activity does contribute to spondylolisthesis and other spine conditions, being physically fit and active can also have benefits for spine health. The following information can help you work with your doctor to find the best way to safely engage in sports.

Athletes and spondylolisthesis

Participation in certain sports, especially over a period of years, can lead to spondylolisthesis because of the pressure and high impacts that are placed on spinal components. Gymnasts, football players, hockey players and other athletes are especially disposed to the condition because of the amount of stress they place on their backs through weightlifting, flexing, twisting and other activities related to their individual sports. Such activities can cause a stress fracture on a vertebra, which can in turn weaken the vertebra and cause it to slip out of place – a condition known as isthmic spondylolisthesis.

Another common cause of spondylolisthesis comes as a result of aging and the degeneration of spinal tissue. Bones, spinal discs, facet joints and other components of the spine can deteriorate as we age, resulting in spinal instability. While no one can reverse the aging process, years of repetitive motion and high impacts can accelerate spinal degeneration, including those involved with sports. However, there are ways to lessen the impact that your sport of choice has on your spine. Here are some of the steps you can take:

  • Use correct form and posture
  • Always wear necessary safety equipment
  • Keep yourself physically fit and conditioned
  • Take small injuries seriously and get adequate rest and recovery

Treatment options

Most cases of spondylolisthesis are first treated with conservative options such as pain medication, physical therapy, steroid injections and hot and cold compression. If these and other treatments do not bring the relief needed to resume normal activities after being exhausted, surgery may be considered.

Contact Laser Spine Institute to learn more about minimally invasive spine surgery as an alternative to more invasive traditional open spine procedures. Our procedures are performed on an outpatient basis and provide less risk of complication and a shorter recovery time when compared to traditional open neck or back surgery.

Speak to our dedicated team today for a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.