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What is spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis occurs when one of the vertebra of the spine slips beyond its normal position and overhangs the vertebra below it. It most commonly occurs in the lower spine, just above the tailbone, because it is the area exposed to the greatest pressure as the body bends, twists and lifts objects. This repeated stress can cause small fractures in the bones of the spine, eventually allowing them to slip out of place.

How do you receive a spondylolisthesis diagnosis?

A physician will listen to a patient’s history of back pain and other problems before considering spondylolisthesis as a possibility. If such a diagnosis is suspected, an imaging test — such as an X-ray — can be used to confirm it. These tests can also help the physician assign a grade of slippage from 1 to 5, with higher numbers representing higher degrees of slippage. This helps guide treatment choices.

What are spondylolisthesis causes?

Some people experience the condition due a birth defect in their spinal structure. More often, however, athletes — particularly gymnasts, weightlifters, football players and others who place great strain on their lower back — are affected by the condition. It can also be seen in people who have experienced spinal trauma or those whose spines have simply worn down with older age.

What are typical spondylolisthesis symptoms?

Spondylolisthesis symptoms range from nonexistent in mild cases to readily apparent in very severe ones. For example, someone with more spinal slippage may have conditions called lordosis or kyphosis, which are exaggerated curvatures of the spine. Symptoms can include pain and tenderness at the site of the slippage, as well as general stiffness of the spine. Other problems can affect the hips and legs, including:

  • Achiness or numbness in the buttocks or thighs
  • Leg weakness
  • Tightened hamstring muscles

What kinds of spondylolisthesis treatment are available?

Nonsurgical treatment is generally the first choice for people who have spondylolisthesis, except in very severe cases. These approaches can include any or all of the following:

  • Brief periods of rest (a few days can be helpful, but more extended rest may weaken the muscles that support the spine and worsen the problem)
  • Medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and pain medications
  • Exercise, stretching and physical therapy
  • Steroid injections to relieve pain and other symptoms

When should you think about spondylolisthesis surgery?

Conservative measures can be useful in managing the symptoms of spondylolisthesis, but they aren’t designed to change the underlying structure of the spine. Surgery can address spinal slippage, but it is usually recommended only for people who have trouble walking, standing or performing their other usual tasks, and who have not seen notable improvement after weeks or months of nonsurgical intervention.

Surgery can be performed using a traditional open spine approach. However, it can also be done through minimally invasive spine surgery such as that performed at Laser Spine Institute. With the many advantages, including a shorter recovery time,^ that our approach offers over traditional operations, patients may wish to consider our outpatient options if their physician believes that surgery is appropriate.

To learn more about Laser Spine Institute and the spondylolisthesis surgery offered at our Cincinnati location, contact us today. Our dedicated team can tell you how to get a no-cost MRI review* that can help you determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.