Spondylolisthesis develops when an injury or deformity pushes one or more spinal vertebrae out of place, which then put pressure on the spinal cord and/or nearby nerves. The two common types of spondylolisthesis are:

  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis: The vertebrae lose flexibility and strength (either from natural aging or arthritis) and shrink, swell, and move out of place.
  • Spondylotic spondylolisthesis: A break in a lower back bone can cause a vertebra to move out of place.

Some people have spondylolisthesis for many years and do not realize it until the slipped vertebra starts to affect nearby nerves. Then, symptoms can include:

  • Leg pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Burning sensation or numbness in the legs
  • Weakness in the legs

Spondylolisthesis Care at MedStar Georgetown

MedStar Georgetown’s team of skilled  orthopedic spine surgeons specializes in both traditional and contemporary management of spine problems like spondylolisthesis. Our approach includes:

  • Advanced surgical expertise – We have extensive training in the most advanced surgical treatment procedures, including traditional and minimally invasive techniques.  Our approach depends on the severity of your condition, and also incorporates current research.  For example, we offer anterior surgery, which accesses the spine from the front of the body, because research shows it can be more effective. Learn more about treatment options for spondylolisthesis at Georgetown. [LINK TO: Treatment]
  • Personalized care – We spend time with you and your family explaining your condition and possible treatment options. Together, we discuss the risks and benefits of each treatment and address all your questions and concerns. Ultimately, you choose what treatment option will be most effective and appropriate for you.
  • Multidisciplinary cooperation – We work with any other relevant specialists to manage your care.

Spondylolisthesis Diagnosis

The orthopedic surgeons at Georgetown are experts at diagnosing all types of spondylolisthesis.  Our initial exam generally includes:

  • Taking your medical history – This includes asking questions about when your pain began, and when the pain feels most severe. Other questions may be about whether you have other medical problems, and if you take any medications.
  • Physical exam – The orthopedist will determine where your back is most sensitive by examining it and by asking you to move and bend in different directions.
  • Imaging tests – Your orthopedist may want to examine the bones and joints themselves using a variety of imaging techniques, including:
    • X-ray, which will show if your bones are aging or if any of the vertebrae are out of alignment
    • CT scan, which combines X-ray technology with computers to provide a very detailed picture of the spine
    • MRI, which uses powerful magnets and computer technology to create a picture of your muscles, tissues, nerves, and disks

Spondylolisthesis Treatment

Your orthopaedic team will first try to treat the pain and discomfort of spondylolisthesis with non-surgical treatment. Treatment options aside from surgery may include:

  • Prescription and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or pain medications
  • Injections of steroids or anti-inflammatory medications
  • Physical therapy, including exercises to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles

If non-surgical treatment does not relieve the symptoms within six months, surgery may be necessary. The orthopaedic surgeons at MedStar Georgetown have extensive training in advanced and innovative surgical procedures to treat spondylolisthesis, including:

  • Laminectomy, or decompression, removes the bones or ligaments that press on the nerves or spinal cord.
  • Spinal fusion unites vertebrae together to help stabilize the spine.

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