What is Spondylolisthesis?

SpondylolishesisSpondylolisthesis is a condition that causes back pain and occurs when one vertebra slips forward or backward against an adjacent vertebra. It can lead to deformity of the spine, narrowing of the spinal canal also known as spinal stenosis or compression of the exiting nerve roots, also known as foraminal stenosis.

There are five major types:

  • Dysplastic spondylolisthesis is caused by the vertebrae forming incorrectly before birth.

  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis is marked by a defect in a portion of the vertebrae called the "pars interarticularis" and can be caused by repetitive trauma. It's more common in athletes exposed to hyperextension motions such as a gymnast or football linemen.

  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis is a cartilage degeneration causing arthritic changes in the joints of the vertebrae and is generally found in older patients.

  • Traumatic spondylolisthesis is a direct trauma or injury to the vertebrae and is often caused by a joint fracture that allows the front portion of a vertebra to slip forward against the back portion.

  • Pathologic spondylolisthesis is an abnormal bone, from a tumor, perhaps, that causes a defect in the bone.

Spondylolisthesis Symptoms

Symptoms can vary in severity and not all cases may present painful symptoms like back pain. Patients may report back pain only when performing activities that involve the back, or they may have continuous pain in the area of the slippage, muscle tightness in the hamstrings or stiffness and pain in the thighs and buttocks.

How is Spondylolisthesis Diagnosed?

Most conditions are diagnosed when patients ask their doctors about back deformities they have noticed themselves or, if a known trauma to the vertebrae has occurred, a comprehensive spine center would diagnose this case as other spinal conditions were being considered and ruled out.

Spondylolisthesis Treatment Options

We believe in conservative approaches to treatment, and will never push you into a surgical procedure, but we will give your our expert opinion and let you know if surgery is your best option. At Spine Centers of America, we put the patient first and devise a treatment plan specific to your condition.


A conservative treatment approach should be attempted for at least 6 weeks prior to any surgical decision. These treatments may include physical therapy with an emphasis on core muscle building, anti-inflammatory medications and lower back pain treatment such as lumbar epidural injections and a lumbar brace to wear.


If these treatments fail to provide substantial relief, our spine specialists may recommend a laser spine procedure, like endoscopic foraminotomy. Performed under local anesthesia this minimally invasive spine procedure only requires a very small incision and a quick recovery time. However, because it involves the spine, it is strongly recommended that a board certified spinal surgeon performs the surgery. Every physician at comprehensive spine center is a board certified spinal surgeon.

If you need more information about this condition, feel free to visit our spine educational videos page or contact us to speak to a spine specialist.