Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which one bone in your back
(vertebra) slides forward over the bone below it. It
most often occurs in the lower spine (lumbosacral area). In some cases, this
may lead to your spinal cord or nerve roots being squeezed. This can cause back
pain and numbness or weakness in one or both legs. In rare cases, it can also lead to
losing control over your bladder or bowels. See a doctor right away if you
begin losing bladder or bowel control.
Sometimes when a vertebra slips out of place, you may have no
symptoms at all or no symptoms until years later. Then, you may have pain in
your low back or buttock. Muscles in your leg may feel tight or weak. You may
What causes spondylolisthesis?
The bones in your spine come together at several small joints
that keep the bones lined up while still allowing them to move.
Spondylolisthesis is caused by a problem with one or more of these small joints
that allows one bone to move out of line.
Spondylolisthesis may be caused by any of a number of problems
with the small joints in your back. You could have:
A defective joint that you've had since birth
Spondylolisthesis affects children and teens involved in sports.
Some sports, such as gymnastics or weight lifting, can overuse back bones to
the point of causing stress fractures in vertebrae, which can result in
Older adults can develop spondylolisthesis, because wear and tear
on the back leads to stress fractures. It can also occur without stress
fractures when the disc and joints are worn down and slip out of place.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of spondylolisthesis may include:
Back or buttock pain.
runs from the lower back down one or both legs.
weakness in one or both legs.
Leg, back, or buttock pain that gets
worse when you bend over or twist.
of bladder or bowel control, in rare cases.
Sometimes spondylolisthesis causes no symptoms at all.
How is spondylolisthesis diagnosed?
Your doctor will look at X-rays of your back if he or she
suspects you have spondylolisthesis. X-rays will show if any of the vertebrae
in your back have fractures or cracks and have slipped out of place. You could
also have a
CT scan or an
MRI to pinpoint the damage and help guide
How is it treated?
Treatment for spondylolisthesis begins with stopping any physical
activity that may have led to vertebrae damage. To help relieve pain, take
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including
ibuprofen (such as Advil) or naproxen (such as
Aleve). Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of
Reye syndrome, a serious illness. Acetaminophen
(such as Tylenol) can also help with pain.
When pain is extreme or bones continue to move, or if there is
nerve root or spinal cord damage related to the spondylolisthesis, surgery can
sometimes help. Surgery may be done to remove bone or other tissue to take
pressure off the spinal cord or nerves (decompression). Or surgery may be done
to fuse the bones in position. Sometimes both decompression and fusion are done
during the same surgery. After
any of these surgeries, you may need to wear a cast or back brace for a while.
Later, rehabilitation therapy will help make your muscles stronger and movement
Hu SS, et al. (2006). Spondylolisthesis and
spondylolysis section of Disorders, diseases, and injuries of the spine. In HB
Skinner, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Orthopedics, 4th ed., pp. 271–277. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Kanayama M, et al. (2007). A minimum 10-year follow-up
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Spine, 32(18): 1992–1996.
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.