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Spondylolisthesis

Orthopedic Surgery

In spondylolisthesis, one of the bones in your spine — called a vertebra — slips forward and out of place. This may occur anywhere along the spine, but is most common in the lower back (lumbar spine). In some people, this causes no symptoms at all. Others may have back and leg pain that ranges from mild to severe.

spondylosis

(Left) In spondylolysis, a fracture often occurs at the pars interarticularis. (Right) Because of the pars fracture, only the front part of the bone slips forward.

What are the different types of spondylolisthesis?

Many types of spondylolisthesis can affect adults. The two most common types are degenerative and spondylolytic. There are other less common types of spondylolisthesis, such as slippage caused by a recent, severe fracture or a tumor.

What is degenerative spondylolisthesis?

As we age, general wear and tear causes changes in the spine. Intervertebral discs begin to dry out and weaken. They lose height, become stiff, and begin to bulge. This disc degeneration is the start to both arthritis and degenerative spondylolisthesis (DS).

As arthritis develops, it weakens the joints and ligaments that hold your vertebrae in the proper position. The ligament along the back of your spine (ligamentum flavum) may begin to buckle. One of the vertebrae on either side of a worn, flattened disc can loosen and move forward over the vertebra below it. This can narrow the spinal canal and put pressure on the spinal cord. This narrowing of the spinal canal is called spinal stenosis and is a common problem in patients with DS.

Women are more likely than men to have DS, and it is more common in patients who are older than 50. A higher incidence has been noted in the African-American population.

What is spondylolytic spondylolisthesis?

One of the bones in your lower back can break and this can cause a vertebra to slip forward. The break most often occurs in the area of your lumbar spine called the pars interarticularis.

In most cases of spondylolytic spondylolisthesis, the pars fracture occurs during adolescence and goes unnoticed until adulthood. The normal disc degeneration that occurs in adulthood can then stress the pars fracture and cause the vertebra to slip forward. This type of spondylolisthesis is most often seen in middle-aged men.

Because a pars fracture causes the front (vertebra) and back (lamina) parts of the spinal bone to disconnect, only the front part slips forward. This means that narrowing of the spinal canal is less likely than in other kinds of spondylolisthesis, such as DS in which the entire spinal bone slips forward.

What are the symptoms of degenerative spondylolisthesis?

Patients with DS often visit the doctor's office once the slippage has begun to put pressure on the spinal nerves. Although the doctor may find arthritis in the spine, the symptoms of DS are typically the same as symptoms of spinal stenosis. For example, DS patients often develop leg and/or lower back pain. The most common symptoms in the legs include a feeling of vague weakness associated with prolonged standing or walking.

Leg symptoms may be accompanied by numbness, tingling, and/or pain that is often affected by posture. Forward bending or sitting often relieves the symptoms because it opens up space in the spinal canal. Standing or walking often increases symptoms.

What are the symptoms of spondylolytic spondylolisthesis?

Most patients with spondylolytic spondylolisthesis do not have pain and are often surprised to find they have the slippage when they see it in x-rays. They typically visit a doctor with low back pain related to activities. The back pain is sometimes accompanied by leg pain.