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Spondylolisthesis and Spondylolysis

Spondylolisthesis and Spondylolysis Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery

Spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis are spine disorders that contribute to pain in children and adults. 

Spondylolysis (spine inflammation) refers to a stress fracture of the vertebral bone. This type of injury and fracture is common in athletic youth. 

Spondylolisthesis is a painful condition in which a vertebra, slips out of its place and pushes on the bones below it. Degenerative spondylolisthesis may be the outcome of untreated spondylolysis.

Pain from spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis depends on the region involved. However, lumbar spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are commonly observed disorders. Several non-surgical methods are available to treat the condition. However, severe cases of spondylolisthesis might warrant surgery.

What Causes Spondylolisthesis and Spondylolysis?

Fracture of the lumbar vertebrae followed by a downward displacement can be attributed to several causes:

  • Hyperextension of the spine (overstretching in a game)
  • Repetitive forces on the vertebrae 
  • Genetics 
  • Degenerative changes

Repetitive vigorous activity such as sports and athletics can weaken the thin bony part, i.e., pars interarticularis of the lumbar vertebra. Lifting heavy weights can induce fractures (pars fracture) and promote slipping of the vertebra out of place. Studies show that degenerative age changes increase the chances of spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis.

Risk Factors for Spondylolisthesis and Spondylolysis 

Risk factors for spinal disorders include sports, athletics, and activities that stretch the lumbar region, including football, dancing, gymnastics, etc., and old age. Accordingly, lumbar spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are major causes of low back pain in athletes

Age is another significant risk factor for the condition. It was found in a study that the conditions co-exist in adults aged above 60 years of age. That can be due to the weakening of the vertebrae resulting from spinal wear and tear.

Some other risk factors include shortness of stature, clinical degenerative arthritis, higher BMI, and genetics.

Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis and Spondylolysis

In many people, the condition is asymptomatic and only diagnosed on a radiograph. When present, the most common symptoms of spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are:

  • Low back pain radiating downwards (sciatica)
  • Nerve symptoms (burning, numbness, and tingling) in the leg and feet
  • Back muscle strain 
  • Aching pain that worsens with activity
  • Back and thigh stiffness 
  • Difficulty walking and standing 

Low back pain and neurological dysfunction are common in women suffering from spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis.

How Is the Condition Diagnosed?

Usually, your doctor will start with a brief history of the onset of pain. If a history of sports activity is present in the young patients, the physician will proceed to a physical examination. In the physical exam, the doctor looks for areas of tenderness and associated pain/discomfort and muscle weakness.

Imaging tests like X-rays, CT, and MRI scans can help diagnose bone issues. Your doctor might also prescribe a SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scan to check underlying spondylolysis.

Treatment Options 

Non-surgical treatment is beneficial for managing mild-severity spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis. Surgery is reserved for high-grade spondylolisthesis patients or individuals who do not respond to conservative methods.

Nonsurgical Treatment 

Nonsurgical treatment interventions include


Back pain due to spondylolisthesis/spondylolysis aggravates upon movement. Thus, rest helps alleviate pain and improves healing

Medications and Injections

Over-the-counter painkillers such as naproxen and diclofenac can reduce inflammation and swelling. NSAIDs can provide symptomatic relief. Administering epidural and facet joint injections of corticosteroids to the painful site are also an option to diminish pain.

Back Braces 

Orthotic braces for the back provide sufficient support to take the pressure off your pelvis. A back brace limits the movement of the spine and lets it heal better. Braces are best suited for old-age patients.

Physical Therapy 

Physiotherapy and light stretching exercises can help improve flexibility and movement. The best conservative management for low-grade spondylolisthesis with symptomatic spondylolysis is a combination of physical therapy and back bracing.

Surgical Treatment 

Spinal fusion (posterior lumbar interbody fusion) is a prevalent surgical treatment modality for spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis. It involves fusing the broken, displaced vertebrae. The vertebrae are aligned, and small bone grafts are placed in between the vertebrae. That allows the bones to connect and form a single structure after healing. 

Recovery Time 

It usually takes a few weeks to months to recover from surgery. Recovery with conservative methodology is quick. However, in case of surgery (spinal fusion), it may take four to six weeks for you to return to normal household chores. Complete recovery may take as many as six months. 

How Can I Prevent Spondylolisthesis and Spondylolysis? 

You can reduce the risk of spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis by:

  • Doing regular exercise to strengthen back muscles
  • Maintaining a healthy weight to avoid exerting excess pressure on your back
  • Warming up before athletic activities 
  • Maintaining a good posture
  • Using the correct lifting techniques
  • Eating a well-balanced diet, including calcium-rich foods, to strengthen bones and muscles

Expert Neck and Back Care at Raleigh Orthopaedic 

Raleigh Orthopaedic is a reliable healthcare center for managing spinal and musculoskeletal injuries. The trained staff at the facility are experienced in treating conditions like spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis. 

If you are experiencing consistent lower back pain that is inhibiting your daily movement like walking or standing up, it is essential to see a medical professional immediately for a timely diagnosis and treatment. So, don’t delay and get your appointment to set yourself on the path to recovery and a healthy spine!

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