Spondylolisthesis (pronounced spon-dee-low-lis-thee-sis) is made up from the Greek words spondylos, which means “spine” and listhesis, meaning “slide.” The condition spondylolisthesis describes a spinal defect in which one vertebra slides with respect to the vertebra below it. The result can be a “swayback” posture that may be slight or pronounced, depending on the degree of movement. Spondylolisthesis is a common cause of back pain for teens but can affect older people as well.

How can I tell if I have spondylolisthesis?

Only your physician will be able to tell for sure if your back pain is the result of spondylolisthesis or another, more common spinal condition such as a slipped or bulging disc, spinal stenosis, discogenic disease, or osteoarthritis. However, some symptoms associated with lumbar spondylolisthesis include:

  • Pain in the lower back
  • Pain and weakness in the thighs and buttocks
  • Stiffness and muscle tightness
  • A “waddling” gait
  • Reduced bladder or bowel control

Spondylolisthesis may occur in other areas of the spine such as the neck. Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Arm or shoulder pain tingle or weakness
  • Upper back pain and muscle spasms
  • Arm weakness that can lead to dropping objects unintentionally

What are the treatment options for spondylolisthesis?

If you are diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, your treatment options will depend on how severe your condition is. The disease is generally rated according to degree of movement of one vertebra with respect to the other:

  • Grade 1: 0 to 25 percent (of the bone is slipped forward)
  • Grade 2: 25 to 50 percent
  • Grade 3: 50 to 75 percent
  • Grade 4: 75 to 100 percent (at 100 percent, a vertebra has slipped completely off of the supporting vertebra below it).
  • Greater than 100 percent is called spondyloptosis

Conservative treatment options usually include over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like naproxen and ibuprofen. Prescription pain medication may be recommended in some cases, as well as physical therapy exercise to strengthen the abdominal and back muscles in order to stabilize the spine and prevent further slippage. You’ll probably be advised to take a break from strenuous activities like sports until you feel better. In some cases, your physician may ask you to wear a back brace to help keep your lower back supported and stabilized.

Pain from spondylolisthesis is usually the result of the protruding vertebra pressing on a nerve. For this reason, one surgical option that your physician might suggest if conservative treatments don’t relieve your pain is a decompressive laminectomy. In this procedure, the part of the vertebra that is pressing on the nerve is removed. This usually helps relieve the pain but may lead to spine instability. Another surgical treatment for spondylolisthesis is spinal fusion, which involves transplanting a piece of bone onto the back of the spine that then bonds to the spine as it heals. The result is a solid bone mass that cannot continue to slide.

If pain from a back condition like spondylolisthesis is keeping you from living a full life, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive outpatient procedures have helped tens of thousands of people find relief from neck and back pain.