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Recognizing the Signs of Spondylolisthesis

Recognizing the Signs of Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is a relatively common cause of low back pain among older people, caused by degenerative changes that lead to spine instability. Yet, although it affects up to 6% of adults, many people don’t know about spondylolisthesis, the symptoms it causes, or how it’s treated.

With offices in Eugene and Roseburg, Oregon, Pacific Sports and Spine offers patient-centered treatment for spondylolisthesis, including the advanced radiofrequency treatment with the innovative Intracept® system

Here’s how to recognize spondylolisthesis symptoms and how our team can help you find relief.

Spondylolisthesis: The basics

Your spine is composed of a series of bones (vertebrae) that line up, one on top of the other. Each bone has an opening in its center, and when the bones are lined up, these holes form a continuous tube or column — your spinal column.

The spinal column serves as a conduit for all your nerves as they make their way from your brain to every other part of your body. Nerves exit your spine between each pair of vertebrae at locations called facet joints.

Spondylolisthesis happens when one of these vertebrae slides forward over the vertebra below it. (In fact, spondylolisthesis means “sliding spine.”) When the vertebra moves, there’s a chance the bone could press on nerves, causing back pain along with painful symptoms anywhere along the nerve pathway.

Spondyloloisthesis sometimes happens to young athletes or following a traumatic injury or even spinal surgery. Most often, it affects older people as years of wear-and-tear take their toll. As the bones and joints degenerate, they become less stable, which makes slippage more likely.

Signs and symptoms of spondylolisthesis

Many people with spondylolisthesis have no noticeable symptoms. But when symptoms do occur, they include:

When symptoms are severe, they can interfere with daily activities, like walking, climbing stairs, or performing even simple chores.

Diagnosing spondylolisthesis begins with a review of your symptoms. A physical exam typically is followed by diagnostic imaging to evaluate the structure of the spine and its joints. When we determine you have spondylolisthesis, we design an appropriate treatment plan to help you find meaningful symptom relief.

Treating spondylolisthesis

For people with very mild or moderate symptoms, we typically recommend nonsurgical treatment to relieve pain. These treatment options include:

Most of our patients respond best to a combination of these methods.


We also offer the state-of-the-art Intracept system, a minimally invasive approach to relieving nerve-related pain in your lower back. Intracept uses radiofrequency to gently heat nerve endings, causing controlled damage that blocks nerve signals responsible for pain.

Typically, we suggest Intracept when conservative, noninvasive options don’t provide meaningful pain relief. After treatment, most people begin to experience relief within a couple of weeks.

If none of these options works, you could be a good candidate for surgery. The type of surgery depends in part on your symptoms and the nature of spine involvement. 

Some surgeries focus on eliminating nerve compression, while other procedures fuse a small area of your spine to improve stability. Often, we use these two approaches together.

Learn more about spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is one possible cause of back pain, but there are many others. To learn why you’re having back pain or other unusual symptoms, book an appointment with our team at Pacific Sports and Spine today.

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