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All About Spondylolisthesis

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Spondylolisthesis occurs when a vertebrae (a bone in the spine) slips out of place. Sometimes, the bone presses on a nerve, which results in pain. This usually occurs in the lower back.

What causes spondylolisthesis?

There are three main types of spondylolisthesis:

  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis – This is the most common type. It occurs with aging because the discs located in between the vertebrae lose water and the spine begins to break down and slip out of place. This type of spondylolisthesis typically occurs after 40 years of age.
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis – This develops as a result of spondylolysis, a condition that is characterized by small stress fractures in the vertebrae.
  • Congenital spondylolisthesis – This occurs when a baby is born with spondylolisthesis as a result of abnormal bone formation.

It is possible for spondylolisthesis to develop after surgery or as a result of injury or disease, but this is less common. Spondylolisthesis can also be a common cause of back pain among teens because it can occur during growth spurts.

Spondylolisthesis is graded according to how severe the slip is, and is diagnosed with x-ray, MRI scan, or other imaging tests.

What are the symptoms of spondylolisthesis?

Some patients have no symptoms at all. If symptoms do surface, they usually consist of lower back pain that can feel as though it is spreading. Muscle spasms in the hamstrings and tingling or numbness in the foot are also possible. The symptoms that result from spondylolisthesis can lead to inactivity, which can contribute to weight gain, loss of muscle strength, and loss of bone density.

How is spondylolisthesis treated?

The best treatment for spondylolisthesis depends on the age and health of the patient, the symptoms that are experienced, and the grade of the vertebrae slip. For some patients, conservative approaches are all that are needed. This include rest, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling, wearing a brace to stabilize the back, and undergoing physical therapy and stabilization exercises to improve muscle strength and flexibility.

If the pain is severe and interferes with daily activities, surgery may be needed. Surgery for spondylolisthesis involves removing part of the bone that is pressing on nerves, or using fusion to transplant bone into the back of the spine to keep it stabilized.