Symptoms and Signs of Spondylolisthesis

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 9/14/2021

Doctor's Notes on Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is the slipping of one spinal vertebra onto the bone directly beneath it. It most commonly occurs in the lower back in the lumbar spine. Spondylolisthesis can be classified as congenital (present at birth) or acquired as a result of injury or degeneration. 

Spondylolisthesis often causes no symptoms. When spondylolisthesis symptoms do occur, they are usually a result of irritation of nervous tissue, either within the nearby spinal cord or of the adjacent spinal nerves. Symptoms may include

  • low back pain and pain,
  • numbness,
  • tingling, and
  • weakness of one or both lower extremities.

This can lead to leg pain, difficulty walking, incontinence, trouble sleeping (insomnia), and inability to function. Spondylolisthesis can lead to spinal stenosis (compression of the spinal cord) with pain in the extremities with movement.

What is the treatment for spondylolisthesis?

The treatment for spondylolisthesis is based on the symptoms that an affected person is experiencing and is customized for each person. Treatments can include:

  • Short periods of rest
  • Physical therapy to strengthen muscles and increase range of motion
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • A hyperextension back brace
  • Heat or ice application
  • Surgical repair or surgical decompression, if conservative treatments fail

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.