Spondylolisthesis | Symptoms & Treatment Options | MedStar Health

MedStar Health’s team of skilled orthopedic spine surgeons specializes in managing spine problems like spondylolisthesis. We have extensive training in the most advanced surgical procedures, including conventional and minimally invasive techniques. Our approach depends on the severity of your condition, and also incorporates current research. For example, we offer anterior or lateral surgery, which accesses the spine from the front or side of the body, because research shows it can be more effective.

We also take a personalized approach, spending time with you and your family to explain 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 which treatment option will be best for you. We take a team approach, working with any other related specialists to manage your care. Spondylolisthesis treatments are located in the Washington DC, Baltimore, Maryland, and Virginia areas.

What is spondylolisthesis?

This condition develops when an injury or age-related degeneration pushes one or more spinal vertebrae out of place, which then can put pressure on the spinal nerves. The two common types of this disease are:

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

What causes spondylolisthesis?

This condition is often caused by one of the following:

  • Degenerative or arthritic changes (most common cause)
  • A congenital defect in a joint
  • Damage to a joint due to:
    • Overuse of a joint (stress fracture)
    • Trauma
    • Infection

Spondylolisthesis symptoms

Some people have this disease 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
  • Pain that increases when bending or twisting
  • Difficulty walking


The orthopedic surgeons at MedStar Health have extensive experience diagnosing all types of spondylolisthesis. Our initial exam generally includes:

  • Medical history evaluation – This includes asking questions about when your pain began, and where the pain feels most severe. Other questions may be about whether you have other medical problems, and if you take any medications.
  • Physical exam – Your 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 discs

Spondylolisthesis treatments

Our orthopedic team will first try to treat the pain and discomfort with non-surgical techniques. Treatment options may include:

If non-surgical treatment does not relieve your symptoms within six months, surgery may be necessary. The orthopedic surgeons at MedStar Health have extensive training in advanced and innovative spondylolisthesis surgery options, including: