Most low back pain gets better without treatment, but some conditions that cause recurrent back pain may require medical or surgical care. A herniated disc is one such condition that many people are familiar with, but there are many others, including spondylolisthesis. It is important to get the correct diagnosis for any spine problem.
Spondylolisthesis is a condition where spinal vertebrae slips over one another. Forward slippage (anterolisthesis) is far more common than backward slippage (retrolisthesis).
These are separate but sometimes related conditions with similar sounding names. Spondylolysis is a particular type of spine fracture that, in some cases, can lead to spondylolisthesis, in which there is an incorrect movement and positioning (usually forward) of one or more spine vertebrae.
Spondylolisthesis occurs most commonly in older adults as a result of osteoarthritis of the spine. This is known as degenerative spondylolisthesis. But there are several other types of spondylolisthesis, each having a distinct underlying cause.
Symptoms of spondylolisthesis can include localized lower back pain and/or – if there is associated nerve compression – pain and/or numbness (neuropathy) that radiates down to the legs.
Spondylolisthesis is generally not a serious or dangerous condition. Most patients with spondylolisthesis have few or no symptoms. Spondylolisthesis only becomes a concern when patients develop associated symptoms due to nerve compression (radiculopathy), disc degeneration or osteoarthritis.
Treatments vary by individual case. Nonsurgical treatments may include activity reduction, a back brace, physical therapy and/or corticosteroid injections. In severe cases, spine surgery may be required to alleviate chronic pain or nerve damage.
Most cases of spondylolisthesis do not cause any symptoms. If patients have limited or no symptoms, it is typically not dangerous to leave spondylolisthesis untreated.
Operative treatments may involve some type of spinal decompression surgery, spinal fusion surgery, or both. Learn more from the content below, or find an HSS physician or orthopedic surgeon who treats spondylolisthesis.