Spondylolisthesis is a condition where spinal vertebrae slip over one another. This condition happens when the front part of a vertebra, a bone in the spine, slides away from its back part. It usually occurs in the lower back, closest to the tailbone, where the lumbar vertebrae are located.

This condition sometimes happens when there is a fracture (spondylolysis) in the part of the vertebra called the pars interarticularis.  In this situation, spondylolisthesis can be a direct result of spondylolysis.

Spondylolisthesis can also be caused by the deterioration of the spine’s facet joints and discs, independent of any fracture. This condition is known as degenerative spondylolisthesis.

Most of the time, the front slides away only a little bit. But if it slides away a lot, it can cause the spinal cord and nerve roots to become pinched, causing pain.

Spondylolisthesis usually is mild and heals with rest and other nonsurgical treatments.

What are the symptoms of spondylolisthesis?

Symptoms can include:

  • Localized lower back pain
  • Pain that radiates down to the legs when there is associated nerve compression

Many people with spondylolisthesis don’t realize that they have it. Their backs might feel just fine despite a vertebra being out of place.

Young people are at more risk for spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis because their bones are still growing, especially during growth spurts.

How do you treat spondylolisthesis?

Most people with spondylolisthesis get better by resting and doing exercises designed to stretch and strengthen the back. Only in rare cases is surgery needed to fix the condition.

Nonsurgical treatments may include:

  • A break from sports and other strenuous activities
  • A back brace
  • Physical therapy
  • Corticosteroid injections

Conservative treatments usually are enough to fix the pain from spondylolisthesis.

What is the difference between spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis?

Spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis are related but not the same.

Spondylolisthesis is when one vertebra slips out of place over the vertebra below.

Spondylolysis is a common cause of spondylolisthesis because the crack in the vertebra (spondylolysis) may cause the vertebra bone to slip.

Video Overview: Spondylolisthesis