Spondylolisthesis

Overview

Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which one of the bones that makes up your spine (vertebra) – typically 
one of the bones in your lower back – moves or “slips” out of alignment. It may press on a nerve and 
cause pain. 

Spondylolisthesis can occur during growth spurts and is a common cause of back pain in teenagers. 
In adults, spondylolisthesis is usually due to a degenerative disease – like arthritis or bone disease – or a stress fracture (break). 

Types

  • Congenital spondylolisthesis occurs when a baby is developing in the womb.
  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis is the most common type, and is caused by the wear and tear of aging. 
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis is the result of a condition called spondylolysis, which leads to small stress fractures in your vertebrae.
  • Pathological spondylolisthesis can occur if your bones become weakened by an infection or by a disease like osteoporosis. 
  • Post-surgical spondylolisthesis can happen after certain surgical procedures.
  • Traumatic spondylolisthesis results from an injury.

Symptoms

  • Lower back pain
  • Muscle tightness (especially in your hamstrings)
  • Numbness, pain or a tingling sensation in your thighs and buttocks
  • Overall stiffness
  • Tenderness in your back
  • Weakness in your legs

Diagnosis

You’ll likely need an X-ray to determine whether one of your vertebrae is out of place. A CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan can show which nerves are involved.

Treatment Options

Spondylolisthesis treatment depends on how badly your vertebra has slipped out of place. Many people simply need rest, along with stretching and strengthening exercises. If you do need additional treatment, it can include:

  • Back brace to limit movement
  • Pain relievers, such as anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve)
  • Physical therapy targeting your abdominal and back muscles
In severe cases, surgery can stabilize your spine by fusing the slipped vertebra into place. This is usually considered necessary if your vertebra continues to move out of alignment and physical therapy or other conservative treatments aren’t working.

Find Spine Care Near You

When you have degenerative disc disease, the Aurora Back and Spine Program makes it easier for you to get back to the things that matter most. With a single entry point and your own care coordinator, you’ll be connected to an integrated team of specialists all working together on your personalized treatment plan. Learn more about our program locations in eastern Wisconsin:

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