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What is spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis is a spinal condition characterized by the forward movement or “slipping” of one vertebra over another in the spinal column. A spondylolisthesis most commonly affects the lower spine, particularly the fifth lumbar vertebra (L5) slipping over the sacrum (S1) in the lumbar region.

Spondylolisthesis can affect both children and adults. There are two common forms of spondylolisthesis:

  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis occurs in older individuals due to age-related wear and tear of the spinal discs and facet joints. Facet joints are small joints between the vertebrae that provide stability and help control spinal movements. Degenerative spondylolisthesis is usually related to the combination of the facet joint wearing out and disc degeneration leading to instability and forward movement of one vertebral body on another. If the vertebral bone shifts out of position too much, it can cause pressure on the surrounding nerves. Nerve damage may result and can cause shooting pain down the legs called sciatica. Slippage can also result in cauda equina compression, a severe complication that requires emergency surgery. Degenerative spondylolisthesis is also a major cause of spinal stenosis.
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis develops from a spondylolysis, which is a stress fracture in one of the vertebral bones. In some cases, the fracture is so severe that it causes the bone to slip out of its position. This typically occurs in teens who are highly active in sports and progresses as a young adult. Sports that place significant stress on the lower back, such as gymnastics, football and weightlifting, can create stress fractures on one or both sides of the vertebra.

Spondylolisthesis can have a variety of symptoms. Some people may not experience any symptoms at all. For others, symptoms can be mild to severe.

Symptoms may include:

  • lower back pain that worsens over the course of the day
  • pain in the thighs and buttocks that shifts from side to side
  • stiffness and reduced flexibility in the low back
  • tightness in the hamstring muscle or spasms
  • tenderness surrounding the area of the slipped vertebra
  • difficulty standing and walking
  • nerve compression symptoms include pain, numbness, tingling in the buttocks, legs or feet and pain if the vertebra puts pressure on the nerve roots, especially sciatica.

Chicago spine surgeon, Dr. Kern Singh will review your medical history, ask about your symptoms, perform a thorough physical exam and order imaging studies, such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans, to evaluate spinal alignment, slippage, the condition of the vertebrae and nerve compression. Considering all the facts, Dr. Singh will offer his diagnosis and recommendation for treatment.

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Dr. Kern Singh, MD is an internationally renowned spine surgeon specializing in outpatient minimally invasive and motion-preserving techniques and endoscopic spine surgery at Midwest Orthopedics at RUSH and Professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at RUSH University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Kern is one of the nation’s Top 100 spine surgeons and beloved by his patients for his compassionate care and excellent outcomes. He welcomes nationally and internationally-based patients.


  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430767/
  • https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/spondylolysis-and-spondylolisthesis
At A Glance

Dr. Kern Singh

  • Minimally invasive and endoscopic spine surgeon
  • Inventor and surgeon innovator with multiple patents in spinal surgery and instrumentation
  • Author of more than 10 textbooks in minimally invasive spinal surgery
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