What is spondylolisthesis, and how is it treated?

Spondylolisthesis is a common cause of lower back pain in young athletes, which can get in the way of training and competition. 

You should never ignore back pain, especially if you also have signs of nerve compression, such as numbness or tingling sensations in your legs. 

Make an appointment with the spine experts at OrthoNeuro in Columbus, Ohio, for state-of-the-art diagnosis and personalized treatment.

What Is Spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis occurs when one of your vertebrae is damaged and becomes so weak that it slips out of place and onto the vertebra beneath it. It can compress the nerve roots in your lumbar spine.

The condition is a complication of spondylolysis, a stress fracture in the pars interarticularis — a thin section of the vertebra that connects the upper and lower facet joints.

Spondylosis, which is a clinical term for general spinal degeneration, can also lead to spondylolisthesis.

There are several types of spondylolisthesis including:

  • Congenital spondylolisthesis
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis
  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis
  • Traumatic spondylolisthesis
  • Pathological spondylolisthesis
  • Post-surgical spondylolisthesis

The condition is also often graded according to how severely the vertebra slips. Grades I and II are considered low, and Grades III and IV are high, often requiring more intensive treatment.

What Are the Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis?

The most common sign of spondylolisthesis is lower back pain.

However, in addition to back pain, when a vertebra slips forward, you might also experience:

  • Muscle strain sensations
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain that radiates through your buttocks and thighs
  • Back stiffness
  • Tight hamstring muscles
  • Problems standing and walking

Your symptoms may become more intense with activity and subside with rest. The condition can also lead to cauda equina syndrome and complications, including urinary incontinence.

What Causes Spondylolisthesis?

In most cases, spondylolisthesis is caused by overuse which can overextend and weaken your spine. 

The condition is common among young athletes who participate in sports that overextend the spine or put excessive stress on the lumbar vertebrae, such as football, weight lifting, and gymnastics.

Your risk of the condition may also increase with age, as general wear and tear or a genetic predisposition to a thinner pars interarticularis lead to stress fractures and vertebral weakness.

When Should I Talk to a Doctor About Lower Back Pain?

Everyone has a sore back occasionally, but persistent or severe pain is potentially a sign of a more serious issue or injury that needs medical attention. 

Many conditions, including disc herniation and stenosis, can cause similar symptoms. It’s essential to get an accurate diagnosis so your doctor can provide the best treatment.

How Do You Test for Spondylolisthesis?

Our spine specialists begin by reviewing your symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle factors. 

Then, they perform a physical exam to look for signs of inflammation, deformity, or other diagnostic clues. 

They often use imaging tests such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans to study your lumbar vertebrae, spinal discs, and supporting muscles and connective tissue.

What Are the Available Treatments for Spondylolisthesis?

Your physician will provide highly customized treatment plans to address spondylolisthesis, focusing on pain relief and spinal restoration. 

Depending on the severity of your condition and how it affects your life, your treatment plan could include nonsurgical treatments, such as:

  • Rest, including bed rest
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Steroid injections
  • Physical therapy
  • A back brace

However, in severe cases, you may need a surgical procedure to repair and restore your spine.

Our orthopedic spine surgeons offer spinal fusion procedures to correct severe spondylolisthesis. Your doctor will use a bone graft and surgical pins or screws to join two of your vertebrae during a spinal fusion surgery.

What Are the Signs I Need Surgery for Spondylolisthesis?

The spine specialists at OrthoNeuro recommend spinal fusion in situations where your vertebral slippage is severe or becoming progressively worse.

They might also recommend surgery if nonsurgical treatment hasn’t relieved your symptoms.

Surgery should restore stability in your spine, prevent future slippage, and relieve your pain and other symptoms.

Call OrthoNeuro today or make an appointment online if you have persistent spondylolisthesis symptoms.

Make an Appointment with an OrthoNeuro Spine Surgeon Today!

If you have been experiencing symptoms of spondylolisthesis, schedule an appointment with one of our Board Certified Spine Specialists at one of our 7 convenient locations throughout Greater Columbus. 

We will evaluate your unique lifestyle and goals to determine which type of treatment is best for you. 

Spine Care Specialists


“I recently had surgery on my lower back. I had heard that such surgery would result in pain and cause me difficulties in doing ordinary daily tasks but, I experienced no pain and was able to do normal activities at home and at church. Also, being a bee keeper, I was able to work the hives and extract the honey from most of the hives”

James B.