Spondylolisthesis overview

Spondylolisthesis is made up of 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 individuals as well. To learn about how to detect this debilitating condition and treat the associated symptoms, read the following article.

How can I tell if I have spondylolisthesis?

Only your doctor 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 herniated or bulging disc, spinal stenosis, discogenic disease or osteoarthritis.

Some symptoms associated with lumbar spine (lower back) spondylolisthesis include:

  • Pain in the lower back
  • Weakness in the thighs and buttocks
  • Stiffness and muscle tightness
  • A waddling gait
  • Bladder or bowel dysfunction

Spondylolisthesis may occur in other areas such as the neck (cervical spine). Symptoms include:

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

Grades of 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 the 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 — 26 to 50 percent
  • Grade 3 — 51 to 75 percent
  • Grade 4 — 76 to 100 percent (at 100 percent, a vertebra has slipped completely off of the supporting vertebra below it).

If your degree of slippage is greater than 100 percent, this is known as spondyloptosis.

Spondylolisthesis treatment options

Conservative treatment options usually include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen and ibuprofen. Prescription pain medication may be recommended in some cases, as well as physical therapy 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 high-impact sports until you feel better. In some cases, your doctor 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 doctor 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 spinal 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 to learn how our outpatient surgery can help you find lasting relief from your spondylolisthesis symptoms. We offer minimally invasive outpatient procedures that have helped more than 75,000 patients since 2005 find relief from neck and back pain. Our procedures use a small incision that is muscle sparing to offer patients a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery, without a lengthy recovery and high risk of complication.^

To find out if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures, reach out to our dedicated team today and ask for our free MRI review.* We are here to help guide you on your journey to wellness.