Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis: prevalence and association with low back pain in the adult community-based population

Leonid Kalichman, David H Kim, Ling Li, Ali Guermazi, Valery Berkin, David J Hunter
Spine 2009 January 15, 34 (2): 199-205

STUDY DESIGN: Cross-sectional study.

OBJECTIVES: To determine prevalence rates of spondylolysis, isthmic, and degenerative spondylolisthesis in an unselected adult community-based population; and to evaluate the association of spondylolysis, isthmic, and degenerative spondylolisthesis with low back pain (LBP).

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are prevalent in the general population; however, the relationship between these conditions and LBP is controversial.

METHODS: This study was an ancillary project to the Framingham Heart Study. A sample of 3529 participants of the Framingham Heart Study aged 40 to 80 years underwent multidetector CT imaging to assess aortic calcification. One hundred eighty-eight individuals were consecutively enrolled in this study to assess radiographic features potentially associated with LBP. The occurrence of LBP in the preceding 12 months was evaluated using a self-report questionnaire. The presence of spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis was characterized by CT imaging. We used multiple logistic regression models to examine the association between spondylolysis, spondylolisthesis, and LBP, while adjusting for gender, age, and BMI.

RESULTS: Twenty-one study subjects demonstrated spondylolysis on computed tomography (CT) imaging. The male-to-female ratio was approximately 3:1. Twenty-one percent of subjects with bilateral spondylolytic defects demonstrated no measurable spondylolisthesis. The male-to-female ratio of degenerative spondylolisthesis was 1:3, and the prevalence of degenerative spondylolisthesis increased from the fifth through 8 decades of life. Thirty-eight subjects (20.4%) reported significant LBP. No significant association was identified between spondylolysis, isthmic spondylolisthesis, or degenerative spondylolisthesis, and the occurrence of LBP.

CONCLUSION: Based on CT imaging of an unselected community-based population, the prevalence of lumbar spondylolysis is 11.5%, nearly twice the prevalence of previous plain radiograph-based studies. This study did not reveal a significant association between the observation of spondylolysis on CT and the occurrence of LBP, suggesting that the condition does not seem to represent a major cause of LBP in the general population.

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