How to Stop Spondylolisthesis From Progressing?

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If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, you likely have a few questions and concerns. One such concern may be spondylolisthesis progression.


Many spinal conditions, including spondylolisthesis, are known to often progress over time. The progression of spondylolisthesis can lead to worsened symptoms and decreased mobility. So, understandably, patients seek out ways to curb the progression of this spinal disorder as much as possible. 

In this article, we’ll describe the most effective strategies for stopping spondylolisthesis from progressing.

Understanding Spondylolisthesis

Before we cover the best ways to stop the progression of spondylolisthesis, let’s go over the basics of this prevalent lumbar spine condition.

Spondylolisthesis occurs in approximately 4% to 6% of the adult population. It occurs when one of the bones of the spine, known as vertebrae, slips out of its usual position. The affected vertebra then lands on the vertebra beneath it, leaving the spine misaligned.

The most common symptoms of spondylolisthesis include:

  • Persistent lower back pain
  • Spasms and tightness in the hamstring muscles (located on the back side of the thighs)
  • Trouble walking or standing for extended periods
  • Pain while bending forward
  • Neurological symptoms (such as numbness, tingling, and weakness in the feet)

Two of the most common types of spondylolisthesis are degenerative and isthmic.

  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis results from age-related degeneration of the spine. The intervertebral discs that cushion the spine, as well as the cartilage that protects the spinal joints, undergo significant wear and tear with age. So, the spine naturally becomes weaker and less stable over time, creating the risk for spondylolisthesis.
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis is triggered by a small stress fracture in the pars interarticularis. The pars interarticularis is a small piece of bone that links two joints on the posterior side of a segment in the spine. The fracture tends to develop in young children, though it also often occurs in teens, generally due to sports-related stress on the spine.

Other types of spondylolisthesis include congenital, traumatic, pathologic, and iatrogenic.

  • Congenital spondylolisthesis is caused by a spinal defect that’s present at birth.
  • Traumatic spondylolisthesis is caused by a sudden trauma to the lumbar spine.
  • Pathologic spondylolisthesis is caused by an underlying condition, such as tumors in the spine.
  • Iatrogenic spondylolisthesis is caused by an error during a prior spinal surgery that compromises the spine’s structure and stability.

How Fast Does Spondylolisthesis Progress?

Cases of both degenerative and isthmic spondylolisthesis can be progressive. In one study, degenerative spondylolisthesis progressed in 34% of the studied patients. In cases of isthmic spondylolisthesis in adulthood, the condition progresses in approximately 20% of patients.

However, the rate at which spondylolisthesis progression occurs can differ depending on the patient. Spondylolisthesis progression also depends on the efficacy of the patient’s treatment plan, as well as how quickly the patient sought out treatment.

How To Prevent Spondylolisthesis Progression?

Preventing spondylolisthesis progression can help you avoid exacerbated pain and retain the function of the spine. Some of the best strategies to stop spondylolisthesis from progressing include:

Early Diagnosis and Treatment

As is the case with many medical conditions, receiving professional treatment as soon as possible is crucial to recovering from spondylolisthesis. Early diagnosis and treatment can also lead to a faster, more successful recovery.


Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is used both as a non-surgical treatment for spondylolisthesis and as part of the recovery process after spondylolisthesis. In either case, physical therapy helps prevent the progression of spondylolisthesis while enhancing patients’ recovery processes. 

A physical therapist can offer enormous value to spondylolisthesis patients by:

  • Improving muscle strength, which can help support and stabilize the bones of the spine
  • Improving flexibility and range of motion, which can help patients comfortably perform day-to-day activities and avoid stiffness
  • Correcting poor posture and an abnormal gait, both of which can worsen symptoms of spondylolisthesis by increasing the strain on the spine
  • Reducing inflammation and increasing circulation to the spine

Physical therapists can achieve the goals listed above with a variety of methods. For one, physical therapists give patients individualized exercises that they can perform at home. These exercises can safely and effectively promote healing in spondylolisthesis patients.

Additionally, physical therapists may implement passive treatments to help resolve spondylolisthesis symptoms. These treatments can include hot and cold therapy, massage, ultrasound, acupuncture, and electrical stimulation, among others. Different physical therapists often offer different passive or alternative treatment options.

Lifestyle Adjustments

Lifestyle adjustments are often essential for patients to stop the progression of spondylolisthesis. You’ll need to take certain factors into consideration to avoid worsening the condition of the slipped vertebra.

Commonly recommended lifestyle adjustments for spondylolisthesis patients include:

  • Quitting smoking, which can contribute to spinal disc degeneration and reduces blood flow
  • Maintaining a healthy weight to avoid placing excess stress on the spine
  • Implementing a low-impact exercise routine to promote mobility, strength, and flexibility
  • Avoiding high-impact activities, such as lifting heavy objects
  • Eating a nutrient-rich diet that promotes spinal health

Spondylolisthesis Surgery

While most patients can slow down the progression of spondylolisthesis with non-surgical treatments, they can’t correct the misaligned vertebrae. To bring the slipped vertebra back into position, surgery is needed.

Generally, physicians only recommend surgery in high-grade cases of spondylolisthesis, or if conservative therapies don’t provide improvement after several months.

Surgery for spondylolisthesis tends to include spinal decompression paired with spinal fusion. During spinal decompression, the surgeon resolves nerve compression by extracting specific tissues within the spine. In spinal fusion, the surgeon places bone graft material in between the injured vertebrae, causing them to form a single bone.

While spinal fusion is a known surgical solution for spondylolisthesis progression, it prevents any movement in the fused segment. This can have a detrimental impact on patients’ day-to-day activities.

Patients who are concerned about the risks of spinal fusion can consider a non-fusion spondylolisthesis surgery implant. This new treatment option provides stability without eliminating the motion of the spine.

To learn more about preventing spondylolisthesis progression, contact a spinal specialist in your area.


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