Spondylolisthesis occurs when a vertebra slips forward over the vertebra beneath it. 

Spondylolisthesis, also called just “listhesis,” refers to the forward slippage of a vertebra over the one beneath it. It is most common in the lumbar region of the spine, but it can also happen in the sacral regions of the spine.

Spondylolisthesis can often happen in conjunction with scoliosis, which results in a different condition called olisthesis. Spondylolisthesis is not to be confused with spondylosis, which is a general term referring to other types of spine problems.

While spinal columns are very strong, they are subject to a host of problems, many of which can cause painful narrowing. Some of the underlying causes of spinal stenosis include.

Additional common Spondylolisthesis causes include:

  • Age-related wear and tear, which can lead to Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Other conditions, such as arthritis, bone spurs, herniated discs, spondylolisthesis and others
  • Back or neck strain due to repetitive physical activity, poor posture, imbalances in the musculature, or heavy lifting
  • Direct physical injury such as a car accident or fall
  • Genetics, whether or not the symptoms appeared in your parents

You also may develop spondylolisthesis if you have any of a number of health problems that weaken the structural integrity of your spinal column. These problems include spinal tumors and osteoporosis, and spinal infections. You can also develop symptoms of the condition if you undergo a surgical procedure that produces forward slippage in your spine. 

Some people with spondylolisthesis have no obvious symptoms, while others develop a host of symptoms that vary in their severity. While the condition usually affects the lumbar–or lower–spine, it can occur in other regions. Symptoms include:

Common symptoms of Spondylolisthesis include:

  • Back and leg pain. The most common symptoms of spondylolisthesis are pain in your lower back (lumbar spine region) and pain in one or both of your legs.
  • Sciatica. When the shifting of your spinal bones produces pressure on the sciatic nerve, the resulting condition is called sciatica.
  • Lordosis and Kyphosis symptoms. In some cases, spondylolisthesis can produce a symptom called Lordosis (also known as swayback), or Kyphosis (also known as roundback).
  • In the cervical spine: pain, numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness in the neck, arms, hands, and sometimes in the head
  • In the thoracic spine (less common): pain in the mid or upper back, radiating through the stomach or chest, which patients often confuse for cardiovascular problems

Prior to having a surgical procedure to treat your spondylolisthesis, conservative measures such as physical therapy, chiropractic, and steroid injections should be attempted. If these measures do not meaningfully relieve your pain, a North American Spine procedure may be in order.

North American Spine partner physicians have the broadest range of minimally invasive solutions for your back or neck pain. Depending on the location and severity of your pain, your treatment will fall into one of the following categories:

  • Decompression: Minimally invasive decompression surgery aims to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves. This pressure can be caused by many conditions. Using a surgical laser, if necessary, soft tissue will be removed and pressure on nerves will be relieved. For more on decompression, see Decompression.
  • Stabilization/Fusion: Minimally invasive stabilization/fusion surgery aims to restore spinal stability lost to collapsed discs. Diseased material is removed and stability is regained by fusing vertebrae or replacing diseased material with specialized hardware. For more on stabilization, see Stablization
  • Injections: Injections aim to reduce inflammation, block pain, and/or aid in the regeneration of healthy nerve passages. These procedures often are not permanent solutions, but they may be repeated when pain returns. They are extremely quick procedures with virtually no recovery time.
  • Other Procedures: North American Spine partner physicians may suggest other types of procedures, including the placement of a Spinal Cord Stimulator, an implanted device that blocks the pain signals created by a variety of conditions. For more on our other procedures, see Other Procedures.

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