Spondylolisthesis Surgery: What You Should Know

Spondylolisthesis Surgery

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, you may be looking to know more about this condition and what to expect with surgery.

The spine is made up of individual bones called vertebrae. These bones are stacked on top of each other and separated by cushioning discs which allow for movement and flexibility of the spine. With spondylolisthesis, a slipping of these bones occurs. Most often due to aging, the pieces of bone have worn down, allowing for the forward movement of a vertebra (or more than one).

This forward pushing of the vertebrae can lead to the compression of nerves running alongside the spine, making it an important condition to address.

Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis

You might have spondylolisthesis and not even realize it, as it doesn’t always cause noticeable symptoms. However, if you start feeling symptoms, lower back pain is the most common one.

Pain in the lower back radiating down your legs is often a result of pressure on the nerve roots and can affect nerve function. This discomfort can worsen with movement.

You may also experience stiffness and tightness in your muscles, particularly noticeable in the back of your thighs. This tightness can affect your ability to stand or walk comfortably, making daily activities difficult.

When Is Surgery Needed for Spondylolisthesis?

Surgery might become necessary if you’re dealing with a severe case and is considered in the following situations:

  • Severe pain that does not improve with non-surgical treatments
  • Significant or worsening nerve compression leading to weakness, numbness, or difficulty controlling bowel or bladder function
  • A high degree of vertebral slippage
  • A noticeable decrease in quality of life due to the condition

The objectives of undergoing surgery for spondylolisthesis include:

  • Alleviating pain caused by nerve irritation
  • Securing stability in the spinal region affected by the slipped vertebrae
  • Enhancing your ability to function normally

Types of Surgery for Spondylolisthesis

The most common surgical procedures include:


Also known as decompression surgery, this involves removing part of the vertebra, called the lamina, to create more space for the nerves.

Spinal Fusion

This is the most common surgery for spondylolisthesis. It involves joining two or more vertebrae together, usually with bone grafts and metal hardware, to stabilize the spine.

Whenever possible, surgeons may opt for minimally invasive techniques. This can involve smaller incisions and generally result in quicker recovery times and less pain compared to traditional surgery.

What To Expect From the Procedure

Before Surgery

To plan the surgery, you will undergo a thorough evaluation, including imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans. You may also need to stop taking certain medications and adjust your diet leading up to the procedure.

During Surgery

The specifics of the surgery depend on the type of procedure being performed. General anesthesia is typically used so that you will be asleep during the operation. The surgery can take several hours, depending on the complexity and whether both decompression and fusion are being performed.

After Surgery

You will likely spend a few days in the hospital. Pain management, including medications and physical therapy, will begin soon after surgery to help with recovery. You’ll learn how to move safely while your spine is healing.

Recovery Process

Recovery varies widely among patients and depends on the specific procedure and your overall health. It can take several weeks to several months to fully recover. Physical therapy is an essential part of the recovery process, helping to strengthen the back and improve flexibility.

Getting Relief Through Spondylolisthesis Surgery

Success rates vary but are generally high for relieving pain and restoring function. Your surgeon can discuss the expected outcomes based on your specific condition.

As with any surgery, there are risks, including:

  • Infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Blood loss
  • Issues related to anesthesia

There’s also a risk that the surgery won’t fully relieve your symptoms or that the vertebrae won’t fuse properly, requiring further intervention.

However, spondylolisthesis surgery can significantly improve the quality of life for those with severe symptoms or who have not found relief through non-surgical treatments.

If you have questions about spondylolisthesis surgery, schedule a consultation appointment to discuss the best treatment option for you!


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