What is spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis is defined as a traumatic and painful injury where a vertebra in the spine slides forward out of its normal position. This results to an abnormal pressure on the nerve roots.

There are different forms of spondylolisthesis. Some of the uncommon forms involve spinal slippage from a serious fracture or tumor. The 3 common forms include:

  • Congenital – this is present at birth and due to a bone formation abnormality, which increases the risk for the vertebra to slip forward.
  • Degenerative – occurs if a spinal vertebra slips forward out of its normal position from normal wear and tear linked with aging which causes the nerve root to pitch.
  • Spondylolytic – occurs if one of the bones inside the lower back breaks resulting to the forward slipping of the vertebra and causes the nerve roots to pitch. This is likely to occur in the lumbar spine.

What are the risk factors?

The usual risk factors linked with spondylolisthesis include:


Significant low back pain and rigidity.

  • Engaging in rough or high-impact sports
  • Irregular inward curvature of a region in the lumbar spine
  • Postmenopausal women or older individuals who are inactive with a degenerative joint condition such as osteoporosis
  • Certain occupations that involve excessive lifting of heavy objects
  • Traumatic injury to the spine during vehicular accidents
  • Abnormal inflammation and damage to the cartilage lining the joints
  • Poor posture
  • Excess body weight linked with obesity
  • Pregnant women
  • Smoking

What are the indications?

The usual signs of spondylolisthesis generally include:

  • Significant low back pain and rigidity
  • Taut hamstring muscle
  • Weakness in the legs
  • Abnormal stiffness
  • Numbness or tingling sensation in the thighs or buttocks
  • Tenderness around the site of the disc that slipped forward
  • Leg weakness

Management of spondylolisthesis

The treatment for spondylolisthesis is mainly focused on alleviating the symptoms that trigger pain and stiffness.

The conservative measures typically include the following:

  • Physical therapy exercises that involve strengthening and improving the flexibility of the lower back.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be given as part of treatment to reduce the pain and swelling.
  • Corticosteroid injections into to epidural space can provide momentary relief to the symptoms as well as improve the range of motion.

The surgical treatment for spondylolisthesis might be suggested in some cases if the conservative measures are not effective.


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