Because of the similar spellings and pronunciations, the two different conditions known as spondylolisthesis (spon-dee-low-lis-thee-sis) and spondylolysis (spon-dee-low-lye-sis) may cause confusion. A stress fracture in one of the bones of the spinal column (vertebrae) is known as spondylolysis. If the fracture weakens the bone so that it cannot maintain its proper position, a vertebra may shift out of place, causing spondylolisthesis. If this slippage causes the bones to press on nerves, surgical correction may be required.
People born with thin vertebrae may be especially vulnerable to spondylolysis. Additionally, some high-impact sports—such as gymnastics, weightlifting and football—may cause fractures in the vertebrae, as they place extraordinary stress on the spine and often require hyperextension of the spine.
Spondylolysis and/or spondylolisthesis may be present in an individual without his or her realizing it. However, in most cases there is pain in the lower back, often compared to a muscle strain. When spondylolisthesis causes spasms, the patient’s back may stiffen and his/her hamstring muscles may tighten. This may affect how he or she sits, stands and walks. With significant slippage, the vertebrae may press on a nerve and cause additional problems.
The first option in spondylolysis treatment is non-surgical. Often simply taking a break from activities that cause the pain or strain the back will alleviate the symptoms. Additionally, non-prescription anti-inflammatory medications may help manage the pain.
At times, a physician may recommend a back brace and/or physical therapy. Individuals can gradually resume activities, often adding stretching and strengthening exercises to prevent recurrences.
If the disc continues to slip or if the pain does not abate with non-surgical treatment, surgical fusion of the vertebra may be recommended.