The Southeastern Spine Institute



In this condition, damage to bones or joints causes vertebrae to slip forward and distort the spinal cord. This animation will show two types of spondylolisthesis, degenerative and isthmic.


Degenerative spondylolisthesis occurs when the joints weaken, allowing a vertebra to slip forward. Nerve roots may become pinched, causing pain to radiate to the legs and feet.


Isthmic spondylolisthesis occurs when vertebral bone fractures, allowing a vertebra to slip forward. This can also pinch nerve roots, causing pain to radiate to the legs and feet.

A “slipped disc” is an actual condition in which one of the bones of the spine slides out of its position and rubs against the disc below it. This is called spondylolisthesis.

Most cases of spondylolisthesis occur with or around the fifth bone of the lumbar region of the spine. With children this is usually due to either a birth defect or to an acute trauma. Children will often experience the spondylolisthesis somewhere between the fifth vertebrae and the pelvic area. Adults will find that their fourth or fifth lumbar vertebra has slipped. Usually, adults experience this as a result of degenerative disc disease or other degenerative diseases, such as arthritis.


Some of the most common causes of traumatic injury that causes spondylolisthesis are certain sports. Gymnasts often experience stress fractures in this area of their back. Weightlifters also encounter injuries in the lumbar area, too, because of the excessive stress placed on the bones in that area. Football players are other athletes that often suffer with injuries to this area of the back.

Many of the spondylolisthesis cases that occur with athletes is a result of the hyperextension of the spine. Gymnasts and weightlifters especially overstretch their spines on a regular basis. This hyperextension creates a stress fracture. This can occur on one or both sides of the affected vertebra. Once a stress fracture occurs, the vertebra can easily shift out of position.

Quite often, the person who has spondylolisthesis may not even know it. It is possible to have a slipped disc or vertebra and not experience anything more than some minor discomfort that may just as easily be attributed to “overdoing it”.

One of the results of untreated spondylolisthesis is lordosis. This is commonly called swayback. However, later in life, the result of lordosis is kyphosis (see kyphoplasty), which is also called roundback. In this condition, due to the angles created by the swayback, the upper back actually falls from the lower spine. These are extreme examples of the results of untreated spondylolisthesis.

Your doctor can perform a physical exam to determine if you have the condition. It can be easily diagnosed if you experience pain when you raise your leg, keeping it straight. In addition, an X-ray will reveal any vertebra that have slipped out of place, or any fracture that may be present.


Most of the time, spondylolisthesis is easily treated with anti-inflammatory medicine. Over the counter drugs can work for this, but sometimes steroids are necessary. Physical therapy also helps the problem. The back can actually heal itself quite efficiently with anti-inflammatories and rest. Physical therapy can also relieve the position of the disc, and a back brace can relieve pressure, too. About 80 percent of people with the condition will respond favorably to these combinations of treatments.

Other solutions involve surgery, in which the discs may be fused. Most people who have discs fused experience almost immediate relief from the pain and limited movement that results from spondylolisthesis.

Read more about spondylolisthesis on Wikipedia.

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