Spinal Condition

Spondylolisthesis is a potentially painful spinal condition where one of the vertebrae in the spinal column slips out of alignment and onto the vertebra below it. Spondylolisthesis commonly occurs in the lumbar spine region — the lower back. However, it can also impact the cervical spine of the neck and, rarely, the thoracic spine due to trauma.

If you are experiencing lower back pain or pain that radiates to your legs, limiting your activity level and impacting your quality of life, contact Desert Institute for Spine Care. Our clinics in the Phoenix area specialize in precise diagnosis and quality treatment.

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A woman holding her back in pain.
Model of the human spine demonstrating spondylolisthesis

What Is Spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis results from one of the vertebrae of the spinal column slipping forward over the one below it. The spine’s bones are joined together by facet joints, which support the spine and allow for flexibility and movement. Problems with these joints can lead to the slippage that characterizes spondylolisthesis. A slight shift may not cause any symptoms. However, vertebrae slippage can put pressure on the nerves in the back, leading to lower back pain that can radiate to the legs.

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Types of Spondylolisthesis

There are several types of spondylolisthesis. The two most common are:

  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis: This form of spondylolisthesis occurs due to degeneration in the spine. It’s usually associated with facet joint or disc degeneration, which causes the instability and forward movement of one of the vertebrae onto an adjacent vertebra.
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis: While the cause of isthmic spondylolisthesis is unknown, it’s believed that this form of the condition may be due to sports-related trauma from activities like gymnastics, football and wrestling that put repetitive strain on the lumbar region. Isthmic spondylolisthesis is one of the most common causes of low back pain in young adults, adolescents and children.

Grading Method for Spondylolisthesis

The grading method for spondylolisthesis is based on how misaligned one vertebra is compared to its neighboring vertebra:

  • Grade I: Less than 25% slippage.
  • Grade II: Between 25% and 50%.
  • Grade III: Between 50% and 75%.
  • Grade IV: Greater than 75% slippage.
  • Grade V: The vertebra has completely fallen off the adjacent vertebra.

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What Causes Spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis can impact a person at any age. Young people who participate in sports with a high amount of impact on their facet joints are especially at risk, including gymnasts, weight lifters and football players. This impact can lead to stress fractures. Older adults usually are diagnosed with spondylolisthesis due to age-related wear and tear that gradually leads to fractures.

Various conditions and risk factors can cause the facet joints to become weakened, deteriorated or injured, leading to spondylolisthesis. Some of the most common causes of this condition include:

  • Overuse injuries
  • Trauma or accident
  • Congenital defects
  • Arthritis
  • Infection in the joint

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What Are the Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis?

If you are experiencing spondylolisthesis, here are some of the most common symptoms that could indicate you need immediate attention and treatment:

  • Back or buttock pain that worsens with movement.
  • Pain that moves down your low back to your buttocks and legs.
  • Numbness or weakness in your legs.
  • Difficulty walking

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Woman pressing her hands against her back in pain
Detailed drawings of the spine and other bone areas of the human body.

Diagnosis of Spondylolisthesis

Chronic back pain and even pain that radiates to the legs are highly common symptoms. At DISC, we aim to provide careful diagnosis to identify the specific pain generator causing your spinal symptoms. Whether you have degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis or another spine condition, Personalized Pain Diagnostics (PPD) allows us to use the latest technology and proprietary diagnostic techniques to help us create a personalized treatment plan.

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Treatment Options for Spondylolisthesis in AZ

The orthopedic surgeons at DISC are leaders in minimally invasive spine care. Although we offer a wide range of treatment options and surgical solutions, we always start with conservative care first. For those with a sports-related or repetitive work injury, stopping physical activity is the initial step. Other non-surgical treatment measures may include:

  • Pain medication.
  • Heat and cold therapy.
  • Specialized stretches, massages and strengthening exercises.
  • Therapeutic injections.

If your pain continues or becomes unbearable even after receiving conservative care, we may recommend surgical treatment for spondylolisthesis. We specialize in a wide range of options, including minimally invasive procedures. Your surgeon will discuss their recommendation with you and help you choose an option that suits your unique symptoms and lifestyle.

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Dr Abrams explaining spine x-ray Dr. Abrams laughing

Contact Orthopedic Doctors Who Treat Spondylolisthesis in AZ

If you’re not sure what’s causing your lower back pain or you believe you may be struggling with spondylolisthesis, schedule your appointment at DISC. Allow our team to provide you with the relief you need to restore your lifestyle.


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