Spondylolisthesis and back pain

This article is written by the physiotherapist in Islington at the Angel Wellbeing Clinic. This article looks at how a spondylolisthesis causes back pain.

• What is a spondylolisthesis
• What causes a spondylolisthesis
• Symptoms of spondylolisthesis
• Grading of spondylolisthesis

What is a spondylolisthesis

The most common spondylolisthesis is an anterolisthesis. This is when one vertebra slips forward on the vertebra below. This is most common at the fifth lumbar vertebra when it slips forward on the first sacral segment.

Anterolisthesis is graded as 1-4, a grade 1 anterolisthesis is when there has been a slippage of 25% forward, a grade 2 is a slippage of 50% etc.

A retrolisthesis is less common, this is when the vertebra slips backwards on the vertebra below.


Types of spondylolisthesis

Type 1: dysplastic spondylolisthesis occurs secondary to a defect with the facet joints at L5S1 resulting in gradual forward slipping of the vertebra.

Type 2: this occurs when there is a defect in the pars interarticularis. Slippage of the vertebra may occur. If there is slippage it is called an isthmic spondylolisthesis. If there is no slippage and if there is just the pars defect it is known as spondylolysis.
This type of spondylolisthesis is most associated with hyperextension injuries and micro stress fractures of the pars.

Type 3: this spondylolisthesis is not associated with a pars defect but with degeneration of the lumbar facet joints and is common in the elderly but doesn’t result in more than a 30% slippage.

Type 4: this is a traumatic spondylolisthesis and occurs when there is fracture to the posterior elements of the vertebral body.

Type 5: this is a pathological spondylolisthesis and is associated with a tumour or other disease process causing weakness to the posterior elements.

What causes a spondylolisthesis

• Hyperextension injuries such as in gymnasts
• Tumours or pathology
• Degenerative changes
• Traumatic
• Congenital

Signs and symptoms of spondylolisthesis

There are often very few symptoms of a grade 1 spondylolisthesis other than a bit of back pain and nothing more than in the rest of the population. As the percentage of slippage of the spondylolisthesis increases so the symptoms may increase. Low back pain may increase and there may be pain into the buttocks and legs. There may also be increased muscle spasm in the lumbar spine and in the buttocks and tight hamstrings.


The symptoms may be activity related and on cessation of activity symptoms of low back pain and muscle spasm may go away.

Other back pain related articles

The different types of slipped disc and low back pain

Piriformis syndrome and back pain

Spinal stenosis and back pain

Video from our chiropractor about back pain advice

Video about osteopathy and back pain

If you have low back pain and want to rule out a spondylolisthesis as the cause of your low back pain arrange to see one of our practitioners. We can provide physiotherapy in Islington, chiropractic in Islington and osteopathy in Islingotn. For an appointment click below.

By Brian on 14th Nov 2011   Share |

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