Spondylolisthesis is a condition of the spine which results from one of the vertebrae slipping forward or backward and onto the bone underneath. In severe cases, without proper treatment, permanent spine deformity and stenosis can occur, which can lead to permanent damage and chronic pain.

Common Types of Spondylolisthesis

There are different types of spondylolisthesis, including:

  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis (normal wear and tear from aging)
  • Congenital spondylolisthesis (abnormal spine formation present at birth)
  • Spondylolytic spondylolisthesis (stress fracture from injury)

Because the spine consists of 24 vertebrae along the back that protect the spinal cord, spondylolisthesis can occur anywhere along the spine.  In medical terminology, the spine is divided into regions, which correspond to their positions along the spinal cord as follows:

  • Cervical vertebrae in the neck (C1-C7)
  • Thoracic vertebrae in the upper back (T1-T12)
  • Lumbar vertebrae in the lower back (L1-L5)
  • Sacral vertebrae in the pelvic region (S1-S5)

Spondylolisthesis most commonly occurs in the lumbar region or the lower back.

Common Causes of Spondylolisthesis

Degenerative spondylolisthesis is the most common form of the disorder and is caused by aging and the natural wearing and tearing on the discs of the spine. The discs in between the vertebrae act as cushions and, as you age, they dry out and lose their ability to work as the spine’s natural shock absorbers. As the disc cartilage degenerates, a vertebra can slip forward or backward onto an adjacent vertebra.

Less commonly, spondylolisthesis is caused by a condition present at birth.

Additionally, people who play sports such as football, gymnastics or those who engage in heavy weight-lifting can be more susceptible to spondylolisthesis because of the strain and stress these activities can have on the lower back during extension.

Spondylolisthesis Risk Factors

Some common risk factors for spondylolisthesis include:

  • Age
  • Arthritis
  • History of traumatic injury
  • High-intensity sports
  • Recent tumor or infection
  • Genetics

Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis

Lower back pain, particularly after exercise or activity, is the most commonly reported symptom of spondylolisthesis. Other common symptoms include:

  • Decreased range of motion in the lower back
  • Numbness, tingling and/or weakness in the legs
  • Tight hamstrings and buttock muscles which may lead to muscle spasms
  • Stiffness in the back

Diagnosing Spondylolisthesis

The spine specialists affiliated with Memorial Hermann Mischer Neurosciences utilize a variety of   state-of-the-art equipment to diagnose spondylolisthesis, with advanced technology that can help locate the precise area where pain is occurring and why. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • X-ray
  • MRI
  • CT scan

Spondylolisthesis Treatment

Treatment of spondylolisthesis depends upon a variety of factors, and most often, patients can be successfully treated without surgery. Spondylolisthesis is diagnosed by severity as Grades I–IV, with Grade I designated as the most moderate and IV the most severe, according to the degree of slippage.

For those patients diagnosed with Grades I and II spondylolisthesis, treatment usually involves rest followed by a physical therapy regimen to strengthen the back muscles. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help relieve pain, and low doses of prescription medications may help some patients whose pain interferes with daily activities. Wearing a back brace may also be recommended.

In cases of more severe spondylolisthesis, Grades III and IV where conservative treatment methods are ineffective, surgical intervention, such as lumbar fusion, may be required if the vertebra continue to slip and if there is nerve compression.

Lumbar Fusion is a spinal procedure which minimizes the movement of the vertebrae, corrects a deformity, improves stability or reduces pain generated in the joint located in your lower back by surgically fusing together two or more vertebrae in your spine.

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