Key Points about Spondylolisthesis

  • Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which a small bone of the spine has slipped out of its normal position, leading to pain and nerve discomfort.
  • Diagnosis of this condition involves imaging tests.
  • Treatment for spondylolisthesis may include a combination of physical therapy, medications and/or surgical procedures.
Common related conditions
Tethered Cord Spinal Tumors Spinal Deformities

Spondylolisthesis occurs when one of the vertebrae – small bones of the spine – slips out of place. If the vertebra slips too far, it can cause pressure on a nerve and cause pain. In most cases, this condition occurs in the lower back. 

Spondylolisthesis causes 

The various causes of spondylolisthesis include:

  • Congenital (present at birth) bone deformity
  • Degenerative disorders of the spine
  • Infection
  • Osteoporosis
  • Spinal tumor
  • Stress fracture of the vertebrae

Spondylolisthesis risk factors

The following factors can increase your risk of developing spondylolisthesis:

  • Being older
  • Having a congenital bone deformity
  • Having a degenerative spine disorder
  • Having a spinal tumor
  • Having osteoporosis
  • Having suffered a traumatic injury to the spine
  • Having undergone spinal surgery

Spondylolisthesis symptoms

Often, this condition doesn’t cause any symptoms. When signs and symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Muscle spasms in the hamstring (back of the thigh) muscles
  • Pain in the lower back
  • Pain that extends through the leg and into the foot
  • Tingling or numbness in the foot

Spondylolisthesis diagnosis

Your specialist will use imaging tests – such as X-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – to obtain a detailed image of your spine and diagnose spondylolisthesis.

Spondylolisthesis treatment

Treatment for this condition may include a combination of the following treatment options:

Rest. Your specialist may recommend you take a break from sports, exercise or other strenuous activities to give your pain a chance to subside. 

Over-the-counter pain medication. Your specialist may recommend you try using pain relievers – such as ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) – to help control your pain.

Prescription pain medication. If over-the-counter remedies aren’t enough to decrease your pain, your specialist may prescribe stronger pain medications.

Epidural steroid injections. In this treatment, your specialist injects steroid medication directly to your spine.

Physical therapy. You may work with physical therapy to strengthen your abdominal and back muscles. Most people need several sessions with a physical therapist – along with practicing proper techniques at home – to see full results.

Surgery. If more conservative treatment options aren’t effective at controlling your symptoms, your specialist may recommend surgery to stabilize the spine where the vertebra slipped out of place and help relieve your symptoms. You may also need to undergo a spinal fusion procedure to keep your spine from moving further.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a spine specialist for more specialized treatment.