Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which one vertebra slips forward on the one below it. In children, spondylolisthesis may occur as the result of a birth defect that affects the back of the spine or be caused by stress fractures within the back part of the spine. Spondylolisthesis is the most common cause of low back pain in adolescent athletes. In older people, the most common cause is degeneration of the discs between the vertebrae. With aging, the discs lose moisture, dry out and flatten, bringing the bones on either side closer together to the point where one slips forward on the other.
Our Approach to Spondylolisthesis
UCSF is home to one of the largest centers in the country dedicated to evaluating and treating spinal disorders such as spondylolisthesis. Patients have access to the most up-to-date diagnostic imaging techniques as well as innovative treatments that are not widely available. Our team includes world-renowned specialists in neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, neurology, pain management, physical therapy, psychiatry, radiology and rheumatology. These experts work together to personalize a plan for each patient.
Treatment for slipped vertebrae and the associated pain usually begins with bed rest, physical therapy to strengthen back muscles, medications to manage pain and sometimes wearing a brace. Patients who do not respond to these treatments may require surgery to relieve irritated nerves or stabilize the spine. Our team's expertise in state-of-the-art surgical repair and rehabilitation results in less time under anesthesia, faster recovery and, ultimately, a better quality of life.
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Signs & symptoms
Typical symptoms of spondylolisthesis include pain across the lower back and legs, which occurs when the slipped vertebra irritates the nerves around it. However, a person can have the condition and not have pain.
A number of tests may be used to aid in the diagnosis of spondylolisthesis and to locate the affected bone, including:
- X-ray High-energy radiation is used to take pictures of the spine.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) An MRI provides detailed pictures of the spine that are produced with a powerful magnet linked to a computer.
- Computed Tomography (CT) Scan A CT scan uses a thin X-ray beam that rotates around the spine area. A computer processes data to construct a three-dimensional, cross-sectional image.
Most often, treatment for spondylolisthesis includes:
- Physical therapy to strengthen the back muscles
- Pain medication
- Bed rest
- Wearing a back brace or corset
Children and adolescents whose spines have slippage greater than 30 percent to 50 percent may be candidates for spinal fusion surgery. Children and adults who have persistent pain despite non-operative care also may be considered for surgery.
Surgery for spondylolisthesis may involve decompression of the nerve roots by removing bone and/or intervertebral disc material, followed by fusion of the vertebrae with or without bracing.
UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.