Home Bones, Joints and MusclesSpinal Injuries and Diseases Spondylolisthesis: symptoms, causes and treatment

Spondylolisthesis: symptoms, causes and treatment

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

Our spinal column comprises a set of individual bones known as vertebrae, which are held in position by ligaments and small joints. When one of these vertebrae moves forward from its usual place concerning the one that follows it, we are in the presence of an abnormal condition known as Spondylolisthesis.

If you want to know more about the Spondylolisthesis: causes, symptoms, and treatments, we invite you to continue reading this article in FastlyHeal.

Causes of Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is usually caused by a physical effort that causes the displacement of one vertebra over the other. Therefore it is more frequent in people who practice certain physical activities daily, such as soccer, gymnastics, or weight lifting. The bones, interarticular discs, and ligaments of the spine are under constant stress that leads them to create minor fractures, wear the intervertebral discs, and lengthen the ligaments, thus causing Spondylolisthesis.

The spine region that most commonly suffers from Spondylolisthesis is the lumbosacral (corresponding to the lower third of the spine). It fulfills a function of mechanical support to the rest of the spine and is subjected to greater forces.

Depending on the cause of Spondylolisthesis, it can be classified as follows:

  • Isthmic Spondylolisthesis: caused by minor fractures that weaken the bone and displace it.
  • Degenerative Spondylolisthesis: it is the most common. It is caused by wear of the disc that separates one vertebra from the other, causing them not to be able to maintain their position.
  • Traumatic Spondylolisthesis: caused by an abrupt fracture or slippage of the bone.
  • Pathological Spondylolisthesis: the weakening of the bone is caused by some diseases, such as osteoporosis.
  • Congenital Spondylolisthesis: it occurs from birth. Some consider that it should be viewed as a condition other than Spondylolisthesis and do not include it within the classification of this disease.

Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis

Mild Spondylolisthesis often does not produce any symptoms, and people can lead everyday lives without even knowing they have this condition. In these cases, it is diagnosed by studying an X-ray of the spine for a different reason.

When there are symptoms, the most common is pain in the lower back (the most affected), which is usually more intense after physical effort. When the spine puts pressure on any nerves, it can cause pain that runs down the legs and tingling and numbness sensations.

Pressure from the spine on the nerve can also cause progressive loss of strength, muscle spasms, and loss of sphincter control, resulting in impaired bowel and bladder functions.

As a result of displacement of the spine, pain, and muscle tension, Spondylolisthesis can alter posture and gait. The curvature of the spine in the lumbar region increases, and the abdomen protrudes. The steps become short, and the knees are usually bent.

The decreased movement and activity caused by these symptoms often lead to other problems, such as weight gain, loss of bone density, muscle strength, and flexibility.

Diagnosis of Spondylolisthesis

The first part of the diagnosis involves a series of questions to determine what are the characteristics of the pain that the patient feels, which aggravates or calms it and inquires if there is any situation that predisposes to the appearance of Spondylolisthesis, such as the practice of some sport. The doctor will do a physical examination of the patient to assess posture, movements, and muscle weakness.

After this, and if there is suspicion of Spondylolisthesis (or any other condition of the spine), the doctor will request an X-ray of the spine to assess the position of the vertebrae. A CT or MRI scan may be indicated if nerve injury is suspected or if a clearer view of the bones is needed.

Spondylolisthesis can be classified according to the degree of displacement of the spine:

  • Grade I: 1 to 25% shift.
  • Grade II: 26 to 50% displacement.
  • Grade III: removal of 51 to 75%.
  • Grade IV : 76 to 100% displacement.

Treatment of Spondylolisthesis

The treatment of Spondylolisthesis will depend on several factors, such as the degree of displacement, age, general state of health, and presence of symptoms.

Conservative treatment

Conservative treatment is usually the one of choice. This involves a period of rest and suspension from any activity that may aggravate the condition until the pain subsides. The consumption of anti-inflammatory analgesics, such as ibuprofen and epidural corticosteroid injections in cases of more intense pain is usually indicated.

physical therapy

Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles in the affected area and minimize spinal movements and reduce symptoms. Manual treatments performed by chiropractors, osteopaths, and physical therapists can contribute to pain relief.


The last resort is surgery, which is indicated when previous therapies do not produce improvement. The objective is to stabilize the spinal column in the region where the displacement occurred and to alleviate the pain produced by the injury to the nerve. Surgery is generally indicated only in grades III and IV.

These surgeries may involve removing a portion of the displaced bone, fixing the bones in the spine using screws, and implanting bone in the region opposite to the displacement.

This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Spondylolisthesis: symptoms, causes, and treatment , we recommend that you enter our category of Bones, Joints and Muscles .

You may also like

Leave a Comment