Spondylolisthesis is a condition of the spine in which a vertebra slips out of alignment, moving forward on the vertebra below. The condition is usually caused by degenerative disease, such as arthritis. Other causes include bone diseases, trauma, and stress fractures, which may occur during sports that put a lot of pressure and stress on the back or overstretch the spine. Gymnasts, weight-lifters, and football players are at increased risk. Spondylolisthesis can also result from a congenital disorder of the spine.
At UPMC, we begin with conservative treatments such as medications to alleviate pain and physical therapy to stabilize the spine. Most patients experience relief from pain within a month or two with conservative treatment. However, if the vertebra continues to slip or if pain continues after conservative treatment, our neurosurgical team may recommend surgery such as decompression laminectomy or spinal fusion.
To diagnose spondylolisthesis, the doctor will perform a physical exam and medical history. Spondylolisthesis can produce increased lordosis (swayback) or kyphosis (roundback).
In many cases, patients experience no obvious symptoms, but symptoms may include:
The doctor may order an MRI, CT scan or x-ray to show if a vertebra is out of place and if any fractures have occurred.
Treatment for spondylolisthesis varies depending on how severe the symptoms are. At UPMC, we usually begin with physical therapy. Many patients see improvement with stabilization, strengthening and stretching exercises. Over-the-counter pain medication such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. Epidural steroid injections can provide relief from pain if over-the-counter medications don’t work.
If the patient’s symptoms are not relieved by conservative treatments, surgery might be recommended. A decompression laminectomy removes bony spurs in the spinal canal, freeing up space for the nerves and spinal cord. Spinal fusion is a technique in which two vertebrae (back bones) are fused together. This provides stronger support for the spine, and is almost always done after decompression laminectomy.
How can we help you?
Schedule anappointment >
Ask a question >
Request our expertopinion >
1-877-986-9862(within the U.S.)
Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by
A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.
For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.
UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.
Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.
For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com