Spondylolisthesis is triggered by vertebrae in your spine slipping from their proper place, leading to spinal instability. When this happens, it may apply pressure on nerves, which in turn can prompt lower back or leg pain.

Women at workout class doing squats

More symptoms of spondylolisthesis

Typically people with spondylolisthesis experience lower back, leg and buttock pain. Other potential symptoms include:

  • Back stiffness.
  • Difficulty walking or standing for long periods.
  • Muscle spasms in the hamstring (muscles in the back of the thighs).
  • Numbness, weakness or tingling in the foot.
  • Pain when bending over.

Causes of spondylolisthesis

Potential causes of spondylolisthesis are dependent on the patient’s genetics, age and overall lifestyle. For instance, children may be diagnosed with this condition due to an injury or defect received during birth, or because of accelerated growth during adolescence.

But this condition can affect people of all ages. Those with a family history of the condition are especially susceptible, as are those with an extended history of participating in sports.

The following sports are especially common triggers for this condition as they may place a strain on the lower back:

  • Football.
  • Gymnastics.
  • Track and field.
  • Weightlifting.

Spondylolysis often precedes spondylolisthesis. Spondylolysis is a fracture in a vertebra that has yet to drop down onto a lower bone in your spine.

Treatments for spondylolisthesis

Potential treatments for spondylolisthesis vary from case to case and are dictated by the severity of pain and the amount of vertebrae movement in the patient. There are nonsurgical treatments available that can ease pain and move the bone back to its proper place.


Some nonsurgical treatment options are:

  • Doing physical therapy exercises.
  • Taking over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) to reduce pain.
  • Wearing a back brace.


In more severe cases, your physician might recommend surgery to help repair a displaced vertebrae that has moved very far down the spine, or to relieve pressure the spinal cord may place on the nerves.

This procedure is known as a “spinal fusion” and it has a very high success rate.

Following surgery, a doctor will stabilize the spinal cord by using bone grafts and metal rods. This additional support is important during the healing process, which typically takes four to eight months.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about spondylolisthesis

What is the difference between spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis?

While spondylolisthesis involves the movement of vertebrae, spondylolysis is characterized by a crack or fracture in a spinal vertebrae.

Other differences between these two conditions:

  • The diagnosis of one of these conditions does not guarantee the diagnosis of the other.
  • Spondylolisthesis is much more common than spondylolysis in adults.

One shared quality between these two conditions is that symptoms progress downward and typically originate in the lower back.

What happens if spondylolisthesis is left untreated?

In order to avoid chronic pain and possible permanent damage, we recommend that you seek treatment for your symptoms.

If spondylolisthesis is left untreated and nerve damage is present, you may also eventually experience weakness and leg paralysis. In rare cases, infection of the spine may also occur.

Does spondylolisthesis get worse over time?

Some forms of this condition, such as degenerative spondylolisthesis, can worsen and progress over time.

Degenerative spondylolisthesis, apart from progressing quickly, has the potential to cause stenosis, which leads to the constricting of the spinal canal and added pressure on the spinal cord.

How long does spondylolisthesis take to heal?

The healing process usually takes anywhere between 6 to 12 weeks. The combination of anti-inflammatory medications, rest and physical therapy will help to accelerate the healing process.

Note that healing time differs from case to case, and depends on the prior health of the patient. To maximize recovery, it is necessary to receive a full evaluation by a spinal cord professional.

Is cycling good for spondylolisthesis?

Yes. Cycling and other low-impact activities have proven to be helpful in healing and alleviating pain.

Is massage good for spondylolisthesis?

Yes, deep tissue massage is good for spondylolisthesis. A deep tissue massage alleviates spasms and muscle tension caused by the excessive movement of vertebrae.

Can eating certain foods make spondylolisthesis worse?

Inflammation can be triggered by the consumption of unhealthy foods, making back pain worse. To prevent excessive inflammation, limit or avoid the following:

  • Dairy products.
  • Foods with chemicals.
  • Processed corn.
  • Red meat.
  • Refined grains.
  • Sugary foods.
  • Vegetable oil.


Orthoinfo: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis (https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/spondylolysis-and-spondylolisthesis)

MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Spondylolisthesis (https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001260.htm)

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI): National Library of Medicine. Spondylolisthesis (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430767/)