Spondylolisthesis: Back Condition and Treatment

Written by Mary Rodts, DNP
Reviewed by Christopher P. Silveri, MD, FAAOS

The word spondylolisthesis derives from two parts: spondylo which means spine, and listhesis which means slippage. So, a spondylolisthesis is a forward slip of one vertebra (ie, one of the 33 bones of the spinal column) relative to another. Spondylolisthesis usually occurs towards the base of your spine in the lumbar area.

This x-ray shows spondylolisthesis in the lumbar spine.  Look at where the arrow is pointing:  you can see that the vertebra above the arrow has slid out over the vertebra below it.

Spondylolisthesis Grades

Spondylolisthesis can be described according to its degree of severity. One commonly used description grades spondylolisthesis, with grade 1 being least advanced, and grade 5 being most advanced. The spondylolisthesis is graded by measuring how much of a vertebral body has slipped forward over the body beneath it.

 Grade 1

 25% of vertebral body has slipped forward

Grade 2


Grade 3


 Grade 4


Grade 5

 Vertebral body completely fallen off (i.e.,spondyloptosis)

How do People Get Spondylolisthesis ?

Approximately 5%-6% of males, and 2%-3% of females have a spondylolisthesis.

It becomes apparent more often in people who are involved with very physical activities such as weightlifting, gymnastics, or football.

Males are more likely than females to develop symptoms from the disorder, primarily due to their engaging in more physical activities.

Although some children under the age of five may be pre-disposed towards having a spondylolisthesis, or may indeed already have an undetected spondylolisthesis, it is rare that such young children are diagnosed with spondylolisthesis. Spondylolisthesis becomes more common among 7-10 year olds. The increased physical activities of adolescence and adulthood, along with the wear-and-tear of daily life, result in spondylolisthesis being most common among adolescents and adults.

Types of Spondylolisthesis

Different types of spondylolisthesis may be caused in a various ways. Some examples are:

Developmental Spondylolisthesis:  This type of spondylolisthesis may exist at birth, or may develop during childhood, but generally is not noticed until later in childhood or even in adult life.

Acquired Spondylolisthesis:  Acquired spondylolisthesis can be caused in one of two ways:

What Symptoms Might I Notice ?

Many people with a spondylolisthesis will have no symptoms and will only become aware of the problem when it is revealed on an x-ray for a different problem. However, there are several symptoms that often accompany spondylolisthesis:

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Causes of Spondylolisthesis