What is Spondylolisthesis? Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prognosis and Complications

spondylolisthesis back pain

It is a spinal condition that consists of a vertebra slipping away from its rightful place and moves over the bones next to it.

Spondylolisthesis is a severe condition that can have very adverse effects if you don’t get it treated as soon as possible.

Spondylolisthesis is where one bone of your back vertebra slides over the bone below it. This condition occurs typically in the lower spine of your back.

Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which a bone (vertebra) in the spine moves forward out of the proper position on the bone beneath it.

It can also squeeze your spinal cord or even your nerve roots. This can lead to intense back pain and numbness or weakness in one of your legs or even in both legs.

Spondylolisthesis can be due to a series of problems with small joints in your back. Some of the reasons can be because of an accident, or you can be born with a defective bone union.

The term spondylolisthesis comes from Latin and means “slender vertebral body.” Doctors can diagnose Degenerative spondylolisthesis when a vertebra slides forward over the vertebrae.

This condition occurs as a result of the general aging process whereby the bones, joints, and ligaments of the spine become weak and less able to keep the spine aligned.

Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis

There are a series of signs that you can have when you have Spondylolisthesis.

But, the hard part of this disease is that there are sometimes cases where there are entirely no symptoms at all. The symptoms of this disease will include:

  • Back pain or even buttock pain,
  • Pain that is coming from your back to your legs, in one leg or even in both legs,
  • Numbness or weakness in one or both your legs,
  • You can have difficulty with walking,
  • Your pain gets worse if you are bending over to pick up something,
  • Loss of bladder control or loss of bowel control. This is just in exceptional cases.

Spondylolisthesis can range from mild to severe, and there may be no symptoms in the person.

The condition can lead to an increase in lordosis (also called hyperlordosis). In the final stages, it can cause kyphosis (round back) as the upper spine descends on the lower spine.

Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Lumbago
  • Muscle tension (tight tendons of the hamstring)
  • Pain, numbness or tingling in the thighs and glutes
  • Rigidity
  • Sensitivity in the area of the vertebra that is out of place
  • Weakness in the legs


In children, spondylolisthesis usually occurs between the fifth bone in the lumbar region (lumbar vertebra) and the first bone in the sacral (pelvis) area.

It is often due to a congenital anomaly in that area of the spine or to a sudden injury (acute trauma).

In adults, the most common cause is abnormal wear of cartilage and bones (called arthritis).

Osteopathy and fractures can also cause spondylolisthesis. Some sporting activities, such as gymnastics, weightlifting and football put a lot of strain on the bones in the lower back.

These activities also require the athlete to consistently stretch (overlap) the spine, which can lead to an overload fracture on one or both sides of the vertebra.

This type of fracture can cause a vertebra to weaken and move from its place.

Treatment of Spondylolisthesis

When you get diagnosed with Spondylolisthesis, the first thing that you should do is that you should stop doing the activity that caused the Spondylolisthesis in the first place.

You should also avoid doing any action that can cause more damage to your vertebrae.

For the pain, the doctor will give you some medication like Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

These drugs are ibuprofen or naproxen. It isn’t advisable to give aspirin to people younger than 20 years of ages.

Doctors also will recommend physical therapy to strengthen your muscles. If the damage is too severe, surgery is also recommended to remove the bones and other tissues to take off the pressure of the spinal cord.

Spondylolisthesis is a severe condition that needs treatment as soon as possible to prevent long-term damage to your spine.

If you think that you have Spondylolisthesis, you need to talk to your doctor as quickly as possible.

The treatment depends on the severity of the vertebra has been moved out of place. Most people improve with exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles of the lower back.

If the change is not severe, you can play most sports if you do not feel any pain. In most cases, you can resume activities slowly.

You may be asked to avoid contact sports or to change activity to protect your back from spreading too much.

You will be given x-rays of control to verify that the problem is not getting worse.

Your doctor may also recommend:

  • A back brace to limit the movement of the spine
  • Medications for pain (taken by mouth or injected into the back)
  • Physiotherapy

Surgery may be needed to fuse the changed vertebrae if you have:

  • Severe pain that does not improve with treatment
  • Severe displacement of a column bone
  • Muscle weakness in one or both legs

There is a possibility of nerve damage with surgery. However, the results can be very successful.

Tests and exams

The doctor will examine you and feel your spine. You will be asked to lift your stretched leg in front of you, which can be both annoying and painful.

The x-ray of the spine can show if a vertebra is out of place or fractured.

Expectations (prognosis)

Exercises and changes in activity serve the majority of people with mild spondylolisthesis.

Possible complications

If too much movement occurs, the bones may begin to put pressure on the nerves. Surgery may be necessary to correct the condition.

Other complications may include:

  • Chronic Back Pain
  • Infection
  • Permanent or temporary damage to the roots of the spinal nerves, which can cause changes in the sensitivity, weakness or paralysis of the legs

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • The back seems to bend a lot.
  • You have stiffness or back pain that does not go away.
  • You have pain in the thighs and buttocks that does not go away.
  • You have numbness or weakness in your legs.