About Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which one of your spinal bones (vertebrae) slides forward over the bone below it. It is most common in the lumbar spine (lower back) but can also occur in the cervical spine (neck).

At the OHSU Spine Center in Portland, Oregon we manage spondylolisthesis with conservative (non-surgical) treatments such as physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications before considering surgery. Unfortunately, spondylolisthesis can worsen over time. To avoid permanent damage, it is important to accurately diagnose and treat spondylolisthesis as quickly as possible.

To provide the most effective care, your doctor uses our comprehensive health questionnaire to track your progress during and after treatment. This is especially important because spondylolisthesis tends to get worse over time. Your answers to the questions help your doctor determine if the spondylolisthesis treatment is working effectively or you need further treatment or surgery.

Causes of spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is caused by changes in the facet joints of the spine. These small joints link together, keeping the spinal bones (vertebrae) lined up while allowing the spine to move. The spinal discs help cushion these joints so they work well.

As you get older, your spinal discs flatten out and don't cushion the joints as effectively. When this happens, the facet joints can break down or slide out of place. When the vertebrae move forward slightly, this is called degenerative spondylolisthesis or pseudo-spondylolisthesis.

Bone defects can also cause spondylolisthesis. The bones that connect the facet joints in the back of your spine are prone to stress fractures in some people. If these bones break, your vertebrae can slip out of place. This can cause muscle spasms and low back pains.


Symptoms of spondylolisthesis can come on suddenly. They tend to get better with rest, though they might not go away completely.

Symptoms include:

  • Low-back or neck pain
  • Pain that radiates down the legs or arms
  • Pain that gets worse when you exercise
  • Hamstring (back thigh) tightness
  • Neck stiffness
  • Loss of flexibility in your spine
  • Pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the arms or hands, legs or feet
  • Muscle spasms in your back or neck