Understanding Degenerative Spondylolisthesis

As we age, alignment in our spines may be compromised as the ligaments, bones, and joints weaken. This could allow a vertebra to slip, resulting in degenerative spondylolisthesis.

We recently added a new video to our site to help you visualize how this happens.

Watch Degenerative Spondylolisthesis Video

Video highlights

This image shows a vertebra, shaded in pink, slipping over the one below it as a result of a weakened spine.

Why does this happen? The aging process tends to weaken and dry out spinal discs, which can lead to arthritis. Arthritis weakens the ligaments and joints of the spine. In the image above the compromised disc is shown in pink.

See Spinal Discs

The facet joints, shown here in the red area, are located between and behind adjacent vertebrae. If a facet joint weakens, it may allow the vertebra to slip forward.

See Facet Joint Disorders and Back Pain

This image shows the L4-L5 and L3-L4 segments of the spine. Degenerative spondylolisthesis usually occurs in this area of the spine, located in the lower back. It usually occurs in only 1 level, but it can occur in up to 3 levels simultaneously. It rarely occurs in the cervical spine (or neck).

Watch Lumbar Spine Anatomy Video

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This image shows the spinal cord (in orange) as it travels through the spinal canal. Low back pain occurs if the vertebra that is slipping forward compresses the nerve roots in the spinal canal.

Some people may also experience pain that radiates into their legs, or they may have a tired feeling in their legs and difficulty walking. The same symptoms can result from pinched nerves or tight hamstrings. The good news is that many people with degenerative spondylolisthesis do not have symptoms.

See Lumbar Radiculopathy

Degenerative spondylolisthesis is linked to a number of other conditions, including arthritis and degenerative disc disease . We hope this video will bring greater understanding of this condition and help you discuss it with your physician.

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