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Spondylolisthesis is a spinal condition that causes lower back pain. It occurs when one of your vertebrae, the bones of your spine, slips out of place onto the vertebra below it. Most of the time, nonsurgical treatment can relieve your symptoms. If you have severe spondylolisthesis, surgery is successful in most cases.


What are the types of spondylolisthesis?

Types of spondylolisthesis include:

  • Congenital spondylolisthesis occurs when a baby’s spine doesn’t form the way it should before birth. The misaligned vertebrae put the person at risk for slippage later in life.
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis happens as a result of spondylolysis. The crack or fracture weakens the bone.
  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis, the most common type, happens due to aging. Over time, the disks that cushion the vertebrae lose water. As the disks thin, they are more likely to slip out of place.

Less common types of spondylolisthesis include:

  • Traumatic spondylolisthesis happens when an injury causes vertebrae to slip.
  • Pathological spondylolisthesis occurs when a disease — such as osteoporosis — or tumor causes the condition.
  • Post-surgical spondylolisthesis is slippage as a result of spinal surgery.

What causes spondylolisthesis?

Overextending the spine is one of the main causes of spondylolisthesis in young athletes. Genetics may play a role, too. Some people are born with thinner vertebral bone. In older adults, wear and tear on the spine and disks (the cushions between vertebrae) can cause this condition.

What are the symptoms of spondylolisthesis?

You may not experience any symptoms of spondylolisthesis. Some people have the condition and don’t even know it. If you do have symptoms, lower back pain is typically the main one. The pain may extend to the buttocks and down the thighs. You may also experience:

  • Muscle spasms in the hamstring (muscles in the back of the thighs).
  • Back stiffness.
  • Difficulty walking or standing for long periods.
  • Pain when bending over.
  • Numbness, weakness or tingling in the foot.

What nonsurgical treatments are available for spondylolisthesis?

Nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Rest: Take a break from strenuous activities and sports.
  • Medication: An over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen (Motrin®) or naproxen (Aleve®), can bring relief. If those don’t work, your healthcare provider may prescribe other medications.
  • Injections: You receive an injection of steroid medications directly into the affected area.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you targeted exercises to strengthen your abdomen (belly) and back. Daily exercises often relieve pain after a few weeks.
  • Bracing: A brace can help stabilize your spine. The brace limits movement so that fractures can heal. Braces are not used in adults.

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