A disorder in which a vertebra (bone of the spine) slips forwards over one beneath it

  • Age, gender, genetics, and lifestyle as risk factors depend on the cause

In spondylolisthesis, a vertebra (bone of the spine) slides forwards to project over the vertebra below, distorting the spinal canal. Spondylolisthesis usually affects the vertebrae in the lower part of the back. The disorder may be caused by a deformity of the spine present from birth or a stress fracture due to overstretching, especially in people who take part in sports, such as cricketers and rowers. In elderly people, particularly women, spondylolisthesis may be the result of a joint disorder such as osteoarthritis. In rare cases, the condition is caused by a severe injury.

Many people with spondylolisthesis have no symptoms. However, sometimes pain and stiffness may be felt in the affected area of the spine. Pressure on the spinal roots of the sciatic nerve may lead to sciatica, a condition in which pain is felt in the lower back and travels down the leg.

A diagnosis of spondylolisthesis will need to be confirmed by X-rays. Procedures such as MRI or CT scanning may also be needed to exclude other possible causes of back pain such as a prolapsed or herniated disc. Treatment may include wearing a support, such as a brace, and a course of physiotherapy, which helps to strengthen the muscles supporting the affected vertebrae (see Preventing back pain). Rarely, surgery may be needed to fuse the affected vertebrae together.

Normal activity can often be resumed about 6 months after treatment.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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