Everything you need to know about spondylolisthesis treatment

By Michael Perry, M.D.

If you have been diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, it is important for you to research this condition and learn about the treatment options available to you. While your doctor will likely recommend a series of conservative treatments to begin your pain relief, there are many options to choose from. By researching your spondylolisthesis treatment choices, you can have an informed conversation with your doctor and make the best decision for your needs.

Take a moment to read through the available nonsurgical and surgical spondylolisthesis treatment options, and feel free to contact the Care Team at Laser Spine Institute with any questions you may have.

Nonsurgical and surgical options for spondylolisthesis treatment

Spondylolisthesis treatment methods vary depending on the severity of the condition. Spondylolisthesis, a spinal disorder characterized by the forward slippage of a vertebra over the one beneath it, is graded in terms of severity using a scale to measure the slippage. The scale ranges from grade 1, indicating a slippage of less than 25 percent, to grade 5, denoting a slippage of 100 percent.

In general, spondylolisthesis symptoms include pain and soreness in the back, pain in the buttocks and tightness in the hamstrings. Depending on the level of vertebral slippage, nerves may become compressed, causing pain to radiate across the lower back or down the legs and to the feet.

Conservative options for spondylolisthesis treatment

Conservative spondylolisthesis treatment plans are designed to target your specific symptoms while factoring in your age and general health. There are many different conservative treatments available and some carry a limited risk for side effects. Furthermore, the wrong treatment approach can actually further damage your spine, so it is extremely important to work closely with a physician before beginning a new regimen. Treatment of spondylolisthesis is similar to that of other degenerative neck and back problems, and includes any combination of the following:

  • Stretching and exercise. Your physician may recommend that you perform specific stretches that target tightened hamstrings and complete exercises that strengthen the back to better support the weakened spine.
  • Rest. You will be advised to avoid activities that might exacerbate the condition and you may be told to take intermittent periods of rest. Extended bed rest is typically not recommended as spondylolisthesis treatment because activity is essential to maintaining the strength of the muscles supporting the spine.
  • Physical therapy. Your physician may suggest that you attend regular physical therapy sessions as a form of spondylolisthesis treatment. During these sessions, your therapist will ask you to perform specific exercises designed to enhance the strength and flexibility of the affected areas of your spine.
  • Bracing. In some cases, temporarily immobilizing the back can be helpful in alleviating symptoms. Your physician can determine how long you should brace your back for the optimal spondylolisthesis treatment benefits.
  • Oral medications. Over-the-counter and prescription drugs like pain medications or muscle relaxants can help you control your spondylolisthesis symptoms. Before beginning such treatment, however, be sure to consult with your physician about what medication and dosage would be best for you.
  • Steroid injections. If oral pain medications haven’t effectively reduced your pain, your physician might recommend steroid injections near the source of your neck or back pain.

Alternative treatment options for spondylolisthesis

There are also many alternative approaches available for your spondylolisthesis treatment program. While the benefits of alternative medicine have yet to be agreed upon by the medical community as a whole, you may find that an alternative approach helps control your symptoms. A few of the more common alternative spondylolisthesis treatment options include:

  • Chiropractic adjustments. Chiropractors aim to bring the spine back into proper alignment through manual manipulation. Many people find chiropractic treatment helpful in alleviating their neck and back pain, but the beneficial effects are typically temporary because chiropractic care doesn’t permanently reduce the grade of vertebral slippage.
  • Acupuncture. Acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles at strategic places on the body to stimulate specific nerves and muscles. Many people find that it helps reduce the sensations of pain due to spondylolisthesis, although results from said treatment are typically temporary.
  • Acupressure. This technique is based on the same principles as acupuncture, but uses pressure at strategic points instead of needles.
  • Yoga. The conscientious breathing and slow movements involved in yoga can help relax you, and the careful stretching can keep the spine flexible while strengthening the muscles surrounding it.
  • Supplements. Some patients find taking natural supplements or herbal remedies helps them control their symptoms. Be sure to talk to your physician about any herbal remedy you use because it may cause undesired side effects or otherwise interact with other medications you’re taking.

Surgical spondylolisthesis treatment

Except in cases of spondylolisthesis that cause severe symptoms, surgery is only recommended after traditional spondylolisthesis treatment options have been unable to address the symptoms. Spondylolisthesis surgery usually involves the removal of portions of a vertebra, part or all of a disc and/or problematic bone spurs to achieve decompression of the nerves. In some cases, a spinal fusion is performed to stabilize the vertebrae. Traditional surgical approaches to spondylolisthesis treatment are typically performed in a hospital, where you remain for a few days to recover after the procedure. Traditional open spine surgeries are completed using long incisions on the back or abdomen, through which surgeons access the spine and perform the surgery. In the process, the muscles of the back are often cut, which can mean a painful and lengthy healing period for patients.

At Laser Spine Institute, our minimally invasive spine surgery provides an alternative to traditional open spine procedures. We perform a range minimally invasive surgeries that can relieve neck and back pain, as well as other symptoms associated with spinal degeneration and injuries. In contrast to traditional open spine surgeries, our procedures are completed on an outpatient basis. Our surgeons perform these surgeries using a less than 1-inch incision and other muscle-sparing techniques. Our patients also experience shorter recovery times^ when compared to open spine surgeries, getting back to their lives faster.

Our experienced surgeons complete the following outpatient minimally invasive decompression procedures:

  • Discectomy — the removal of a portion of a damaged disc to relieve pressure on a neighboring nerve root or the spinal cord
  • Laminotomy — the removal of a portion – but not all – of the lamina
  • Foraminotomy — the process of widening the space between two vertebrae by removing bone spurs and/or other obstructive tissue
  • Facet thermal ablation — the deadening of a nerve within a facet joint in order to alleviate pain associated with degenerative arthritis

For patients who are experiencing more advanced spinal conditions, we may recommend our minimally invasive stabilization surgeries, such as:

  • Decompression with Interlaminar Stabilization™ Device
  • Anterior cervical discectomy fusion (ACDF)
  • Transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF)
  • Cervical disc replacement
  • Lateral lumbar interbody fusion (LLIF)
  • Sacroiliac (SI) joint fusion
  • Posterior cervical fusion

If you and your physician have determined that conservative spondylolisthesis treatment options are not working for you, there is still hope. Minimally invasive procedures, like those offered at Laser Spine Institute, use advanced technology to treat symptoms of spondylolisthesis and have a lower risk of complication than traditional open back surgery. Visit our FAQ page to learn how our state-of-the-art procedures can help you get your life back.

If you still have questions, contact us today and we will be happy to give you more information, as well as a no-cost review* of your MRI to determine if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.