Understanding Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which a vertebrae in the spine slips out of position and onto the bone underneath it. This condition has different types with different grades of severity.

What Causes Spondylolisthesis?

There are several main causes of spondylolisthesis: genetics, degeneration, isthmic, pathologic and traumatic.

Both adults and children may suffer from spondylolisthesis. In children this condition typically occurs in the lumbar region of the back and most likely the cause is hereditary such as a birth defect in the spine or acute trauma during birth or early childhood.

In adults, spondylolisthesis is most often a degenerative disorder caused by an unusual amount of wear and tear on the bones and cartilage. While it may be caused by conditions like arthritis, it may also be due to sports or other physical activities that put intense pressure on the lumbar region as well as the bones. Overextension and repetition can cause more wear and tear than is usual. 

An underlying factor of spondylolisthesis that very few patients consider is an imbalance of core muscles. This imbalance can lead to what is known as ‘pelvic dysfunctions’ in which one set of muscles is weaker than the other. This can place undue stress on the weak set of muscles, making them more likely to succumb to injury. It is very important that these dysfunctions are identified by a healthcare professional immediately or relief is unlikely. If left untreated you will have an unstable spine.


The symptoms of spondylolisthesis include a wide range of pain from mild to severe, but there are some patients who exhibit no symptoms at all. So, how do you know if you have spondylolisthesis?

In addition to pain localized to the lower back, you may also experience a weakness in one or both legs, stiffness or numbness in the buttocks and thighs and tight hamstring muscles. If you suffer from a slipped herniated disc, you may also experience tenderness of the skin where the disc is affected.

The symptoms you exhibit will be determined by how much contact the spine is in with the nerves. Severe slippage can present with symptoms that include problems controlling bowel and urinary movements. If you suffer from these particular systems your condition is quite serious and requires emergency medical attention.

Being able to identify the level of pain is an integral part of the diagnostic process, which is why there are five levels of spondylolisthesis, designated levels 1 to 5. Each level indicates the amount of vertebral slippage by percentage. Level 1 for example, means that spinal slippage is 25% or less and of course the fifth level indicates 100% slippage, which means the vertebrae has completely fallen off and is being supported by the bone below it.

Treatment Options

Treating spondylolisthesis depends on the severity of the spinal slippage. Those with a mild version may continue to play sports or other physical activities. This is particularly true of patients who present with no symptoms. Those who present with more severe symptoms will also be encouraged to take up stretching and regular resistance exercises to strengthen muscles in the lower back.

Depending on what the x-rays reveal, your physician may recommend a regimen of over the counter or prescription pain and anti-inflammatory medication. This will simply relieve pain and reduce swelling, which can also be accomplished by using hot and cold therapy directly to the affected area.

In other instances spondylolisthesis treatments may require a back brace to limit the mobility of the spine for faster healing or physical therapy to strengthen the muscles through a regular program. In fact a wide variety of treatments have proven effective to treat this condition including ultrasounds and electrical stimulation.

There isn’t one form of therapy that works better than the other; it depends on the severity of your condition as well as your willingness to see your therapy to the end. Work with your physician to create the most effective and comprehensive pain therapy program possible.

Learn more about how lasting relief from spondylolisthesis with the Muscle Balance Therapy. Get more information by reading a copy of our Back Pain Relief Guide.

Filed Under: Spondylolisthesis
Written By:  Updated:
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Jesse Cannone, CFT, CPRS, MFT

Jesse is the co-founder and visionary CEO of The Healthy Back Institute®, the world-leading source of natural back pain solutions. His mission as a former back pain sufferer is to help others live pain free without surgery and pharmaceuticals.

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