How do healthcare providers treat spondylolisthesis?

Treatment depends on the grade of the slippage, your symptoms, age and overall health. Your healthcare provider will discuss treatment options with you. You may need medication, physical therapy or surgery.

What nonsurgical treatments are available for spondylolisthesis?

Nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Rest: Take a break from strenuous activities and sports.
  • Medication: An over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen (Motrin®) or naproxen (Aleve®), can bring relief. If those don’t work, your healthcare provider may prescribe other medications.
  • Injections: You receive an injection of steroid medications directly into the affected area.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you targeted exercises to strengthen your abdomen (belly) and back. Daily exercises often relieve pain after a few weeks.
  • Bracing: A brace can help stabilize your spine. The brace limits movement so that fractures can heal. Braces are not used in adults.

How do I know if I need surgery for spondylolisthesis?

You may need surgery if you have high-grade spondylolisthesis, the pain is severe or you’ve tried nonsurgical treatments without success. The goals of spondylolisthesis surgery are to:

  • Relieve pain from the irritated nerve.
  • Stabilize the spine where the vertebra has slipped.
  • Restore your function.

What happens during surgery for spondylolisthesis?

Surgery for back pain due to spondylolisthesis typically involves spinal decompression, with or without fusion. Decompression alone is almost never done in isthmic spondylolisthesis. Studies show fusion with decompression may give better outcome than decompression alone. During a decompression surgery, your surgeon removes bone and disk from the spine. This procedure gives the nerves space inside the spinal canal, relieving pain.

For a fusion surgery, your surgeon fuses (connects) the two affected vertebrae. As they heal, they form into one bone, eliminating movement between the two vertebrae. You may experience some limited spinal flexibility as a result of the surgery.

Will spondylolisthesis come back?

Most of the time, pain is gone after you recover from spondylolisthesis surgery. You can gradually begin to resume your activities until you are back to full function and movement.

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