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Lumbar Spondylolisthesis

What is lumbar spondylolisthesis?

Lumbar spondylolisthesis is a condition in which a bone (vertebra) in the lumbar spine (lower back) slips forward out of position onto the bone below it. It may occur as a result of a defect, an injury, degeneration due to aging, or a disease.

in spondylolisthesis the vertebra slips forward over the vertebra below it, putting pressure on the nerve roots exiting the spinal cord at that level of the spine
This illustration of spondylolisthesis shows the vertebra slipping anteriorly, or toward the front of the body, over the vertebra below it. This puts pressure on the nerve roots exiting the spinal cord at this level, causing symptoms.

Lumbar Spondylolisthesis Symptoms

Depending on the degree of the slip, symptoms of lumbar spondylolisthesis can vary from mild to severe or not be present at all.

Symptoms may include:

  • Lower back pain
  • Muscle tightness
  • Pain, numbness, or tingling in your thighs and buttocks
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness in the area where the vertebra is out of place
  • Weakness in your legs
  • Muscle spasms in your hamstring muscles
  • Pain, numbness, or tingling down your leg or foot if slipped vertebra is pressing on a nerve

An imaging test is needed to determine whether or not you have lumbar spondylolisthesis. Contact a medical professional if you are having symptoms.

Lumbar Spondylolisthesis Treatments

Treatment for lumbar spondylolisthesis depends on the severity of the slip and your symptoms, along with your overall health. Minor slips may improve with conservative treatment, such as rest, pain medication, physical therapy, and a back brace.

For more severe cases, surgery may be recommended. Procedures for lumbar spondylolisthesis include:

  • Decompressive laminectomy – part of the vertebra that is pressing on the nerves is removed to relieve symptoms
  • Spinal fusion – two or more bones of the spine are fused together with real bone or synthetic materials

Additional Information

How common is lumbar spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis is the most common cause of back pain in teens.

Who gets lumbar spondylolisthesis?

In younger people, symptoms of spondylolisthesis often begin during their teenage growth spurt. Spondylolisthesis due to degeneration usually occurs after age 40.

Spondylolisthesis can be caused by spondylolysis, a defect in the connection between vertebrae that can lead to stress fractures. These stress fractures can weaken the bones so much that one slips out of place.

Fractures in the vertebrae can also be caused by certain sports that put a lot of stress on the lower back, such as gymnastics and weightlifting.

How is lumbar spondylolisthesis diagnosed?

Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and an imaging test, such as an MRI scan or a CT scan, to diagnose lumbar spondylolisthesis.

Additional Resources

MedlinePlus | Spondylolisthesis

  Years old
Spondylolisthesis due to degeneration usually occurs after age 40.