Degenerative spondylolisthesis: review of current trends and controversies

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2005 Mar 15;30(6 Suppl):S71-81. doi: 10.1097/01.brs.0000155579.88537.8e.


Study design: A literature-based review.

Objectives: To review management and controversies and to present authors recommendations.

Summary of background data: There is considerable controversy regarding indication for surgery, role for decompression alone, and decompression with fusion with or without instrumentation.

Methods: Review of English language medical literature.

Results: The condition may stabilize itself with the collapse of the disc spaces and osteophytes but may continue to progress in nearly a third of the cases. It may cause predominantly back pain due to segmental instability, or radicular pain/neurogenic claudication secondary to root entrapment or spinal stenosis. When conservative treatment fails, the mainstay of surgical treatment is decompressive laminectomy and fusion, with or without instrumentation.

Conclusions: Decompression primarily relieves radicular symptoms and neurogenic claudication whereas fusion primarily relieves back pain by elimination of instability. The goals for instrumentation are to promote fusion and to correct deformity. Fusion has a better long-term outcome than decompression alone. There is evidence that instrumentation improves fusion rate but does not improve clinical outcome in a relatively short-term follow-up. However, outcome of pseudarthrosis cases deteriorates over time and solid fusion produces better long-term outcome. The benefit of instrumentation comes with a price of higher postoperative morbidity and complication rate. Bone morphogenetic proteins are being tried to increase the rate of fusion, without increasing the complication rate, but the cost is prohibitive. More recently, dynamic stabilization with instrumentation but without fusion has been introduced as an alternative treatment. The current trends of surgical treatment and controversies are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Orthopedics / trends*
  • Spondylolisthesis / diagnosis*
  • Spondylolisthesis / therapy*