As we age, the alignment of our spines may be compromised as our ligaments, bones, and joints weaken. This in turn can cause a vertebra to slip forward, resulting in degenerative spondylolisthesis.
Watch: Degenerative Spondylolisthesis Video
Our video walk-through can help you visualize this sometimes painful process.
The above image pictures a vertebra (shaded in pink) slipping over the one below it as a result of a weakened spine.
Causes of degenerative spondylolisthesis
This slippage occurs because the natural aging process tends to weaken and dry out spinal discs (a compromised disc is pictured in pink), which may lead to arthritis. This arthritis can in turn weaken the ligaments and joints of your spine.
Facet joints (pictured above in red) are located between and behind the adjacent vertebrae. If your facet joints weaken, it may allow your vertebra to slip forward.
The image above shows the L4-L5 and L3-L4 segments of the spine. Degenerative spondylolisthesis usually occurs in this area of your spine, known as the lumbar spine (or lower back).
Of note, degenerative spondylolisthesis typically occurs in only one level of your spine, but it can occur in up to three levels simultaneously; and it rarely occurs in the cervical spine (or neck).
The above image depicts the spinal cord (shown in orange) as it travels through the spinal canal. Lower back pain can result if your slipped vertebra compresses the nerve roots in your spinal canal.
You may also experience pain that radiates into your legs, a tired feeling in your legs, or difficulty walking from pinched nerves or tight hamstrings. But the good news is that many people with degenerative spondylolisthesis experience no symptoms.
Degenerative spondylolisthesis is also linked to a number of conditions, such as arthritis and degenerative disc disease.
Understanding the causes and symptoms of degenerative spondylolisthesis can go a long way towards helping you develop an effective treatment program with your doctor.