Spondylolisthesis - Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Graphic showing spondylolisthesis with the vertebrae shifted forward in the spine.

What is spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis is a condition of the spine that occurs when one of your bones in your spine, also known as the vertebrae, slips forward out of position onto the vertebra below it. This slippage of the vertebrae may cause impingement on nerves, causing pain.

What are the causes of spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis can be caused by a variety of factors. This may include genetics, where a person is born with a defective vertabra, a trauma or injury from an accident, a fracture in the vertebra, or a pre-existing illness or condition like osteoporosis. Disc degeneration from old age can also contribute to the development of spondylolisthesis.

What are the symptoms of spondylolisthesis?

People with mild spondylolisthesis may not experience any symptoms. However most spondylolisthesis patients typically experience lower back pain. Sometimes if the slipped vertebra impinges on a nerve, it can cause pain on the lower back or down one or both legs, known as sciatica. Patients may also experience tight muscles and pain in the buttocks, known as piriformis syndrome. More severe spondylolisthesis cases can also result in difficulty standing or walking.

How is spondylolisthesis diagnosed?

Usually patients present themselves to the doctor with back pain. If the doctor thinks you have spondylolisthesis after asking some questions on your symptoms, he may run some imaging tests to see if your vertebrae is out of alignment. This may include an X-ray or an MRI scan. He will then give you a grade based on how severe the spondylolisthesis is - grades 1 or 2 are less serious while grades 3 and 4 may require surgery.

Image showing the 4 stages of spondylolisthesis.

What are the treatment options for spondylolisthesis?

Most of the time, non invasive treatment options are sufficient enough to relieve spondylolisthesis symptoms. This includes physical therapy, where emphasis is placed on building core strength, to strengthen the muscles that support the spine and upper body. Patients may also be prescribed with pain killers like Ibuprofen. The doctor may also recommend a back brace to help stabilize and support the spine.

You can view our collection of back braces here:

Other treatments include hot or cold compress treatments which may help to increase blood circulation and reduce inflammation respectively. Both types of treatment are effective in reducing pain caused by spondylolisthesis. Another method is massage. Here a therapist may apply pressure to release tension on tight muscles on the lower back.

Those who are looking for a quick pain relief method that can be self-administered at home may be interested in a TENS device. TENS, which stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, uses electrical current at low intensities to stimulate muscles. This helps to reduce muscle spasms, and increases endorphins, which are your body's natural pain killers to help fight the pain.

You can learn more about the home use TENS device here:

If the spondylolisthesis is severe, however, your doctor may recommend surgery that may involve removing bone and disk to alleviate pressure on the nerves, thereby reducing the pain.

How to reduce the risk of spondylolisthesis?

A series of simple lifestyle changes can greatly reduce your chances of having spondylolisthesis. This includes the following:

  • Having a healthy and balanced diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Regular exercises with emphasis on core muscle strengthening
  • Ensure safe practices when lifting heavy objects

Who are at risk of having spondylolisthesis?

Certain groups of people are more at risk of having spondylolisthesis:

  • Those who participate in extreme sports
  • Older people
  • Those genetically born with thinner vertebrae or weak bones
  • People who have degenerative disc disease

OrthoRelieve carries a collection of back braces that can help alleviate back pain from spondylolisthesis and other conditions. You can view them here:


    American Express PayPal Mastercard Visa