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Spondylolisthesis Surgery

Understanding Spondylolisthesis Surgery and Other Treatments

Spondylolisthesis surgery may be required to fuse bones back together or alleviate pressure from the spinal nerves. 

Spondylolisthesis occurs when a bone in your spine slips forward, causing symptoms such as pain, numbness, and tingling. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help manage symptoms and prevent complications. In some cases, spondylolisthesis surgery is required to fuse bones back together or alleviate pressure from the spinal nerves. 

What is Spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis is a condition where one of the bones in your spine (called a vertebra) slips out of place and shifts forward over the bone below it. This displacement can occur in any part of the spine but is most common in the lower back, known as the lumbar spine. 

Spondylolisthesis can be caused by various factors such as:

  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Repetitive stress on the spine
  • Degenerative changes due to aging 

In some cases, defects in the structure of the vertebrae, such as incomplete formation or abnormal alignment, are present at birth. Children born with spinal abnormalities may be at a higher risk of developing spondylolisthesis later in life, especially if there’s increased stress or pressure on the affected area. 

Consistent stress on the spine can also contribute to developing or worsening spondylolisthesis in pediatric patients. Factors that may cause such stress include high-impact sports activities that place excessive strain on the spine, poor posture, and traumatic injury. Weakness in the muscles supporting the spine can also contribute to spondylolisthesis.

Spondylolisthesis Symptoms

Spondylolisthesis symptoms can vary in severity depending on the degree of spinal bone slippage and its effects on your surrounding body structures.

Some common spondylolisthesis symptoms include:

  • Persistent lower back pain that may worsen with certain movements or activities
  • Leg pain that extends from the lower back down one or both legs
  • Muscle tightness or stiffness in the muscles of the lower back or thighs
  • Difficulty bending or twisting the spine
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in the legs, feet or buttocks
  • Difficulty walking or standing for extended periods

If you’re experiencing symptoms of spondylolisthesis, contact your doctor to perform a physical exam. An X-ray of the spine can show broken or out-of-place bones. MRI scans or CT scans will show abnormalities of the vertebrae. 

Spondylolisthesis Treatment

Treatment for spondylolisthesis aims to alleviate symptoms, stabilize the spine, and improve overall function. Your doctor’s treatment approach will depend on the severity of your condition. 

Standard treatment options used to manage spondylolisthesis include:

  • Physical Therapy: Using targeted exercises and stretches to strengthen the muscles supporting the spine, improving flexibility and alleviating pain
  • Activity and Posture Changes: Avoiding activities that make symptoms worse and improving posture to reduce stress on the spine
  • Bracing: Supportive braces or orthotic devices to stabilize the spine and alleviate discomfort
  • Epidural Steroid Injections: Using corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain associated with nerve compression
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery is required to reduce symptoms and prevent your condition from worsening. Your orthopaedic surgeon will discuss surgical options for your individual case. 

Types of Spondylolisthesis Surgery 

Spinal Fusion

Spinal fusion surgery stabilizes the spine by joining two or more vertebrae together using bone grafts or implants. Fusing vertebrae together helps reduce movement between the bones and alleviates nerve compression.

Spinal Decompression

Spinal decompression surgery relieves pressure on the spinal cord or nerves by removing the bone, or tissue causing compression. This type of surgery helps to reduce symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and pain in the legs or back. Several spinal decompression techniques can be used, depending on what part of the spine is affected. 

Pars Repair

Pars repair surgery involves the use of bone grafts or screws to stabilize the fractured bone in the spine so that it can heal properly. This procedure aims to alleviate pain and restore stability to the spine.

What to Expect After Spondylolisthesis Surgery

After spondylolisthesis surgery, you’ll need time to recover and regain strength. Your doctor will provide pain management medication to help with discomfort so that you can remain comfortable as you heal. 

Your ability to move around may be limited at first, but you should notice improvements within a week after surgery. Physical therapy will be essential to regain full movement and flexibility in your spine. Your physical therapist will generally focus on gentle, low-impact movements at first and then incorporate exercises that will help to strengthen your core muscles.

You will have follow-up appointments with your surgeon to track progress and address any concerns. While you’ll gradually return to normal activities, it’s important to follow your doctor’s advice and attend regular check-ups for long-term monitoring of your spine’s stability.

The Spine and Scoliosis Center of Stony Brook Orthopaedic Associates specializes in treating all spinal disorders. It is comprised of board-certified, fellowship-trained Orthopaedic surgeons who surgically treat adult and pediatric spinal pathology. 

  • James M Barsi, MD
    Clinical Associate Professor
    Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

    James Barsi, M.D. is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Stony Brook University. Certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, Dr. Barsi completed fellowship training in Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgery with an emphasis on scoliosis and pediatric trauma. He specializes in all care of the pediatric patient including: scoliosis and kyphosis, hip disorders, fractures and growth plate injuries of the extremities, and pediatric sports medicine.

This article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature. Always consult your healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance and treatment.