Spondylolisthesis is a spinal condition that occurs when one vertebra in the spine slips out of its normal position and slides forward or backward relative to the adjacent vertebrae. This can result in the compression of nerves and the spinal cord, leading to pain, weakness, and other symptoms. Spondylolisthesis can occur at any level of the spine but is most commonly seen in the lower back (lumbar spine) and can range in severity from mild to severe. It is often caused by degenerative changes, congenital defects, or trauma, and may require a combination of conservative and surgical treatment depending on the severity of the condition.

Causes of Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

Congenital defect: Some people are born with a spinal abnormality that makes them more susceptible to developing spondylolisthesis. For example, some individuals may be born with a defect in the pars interarticularis, which is a small bony segment of the spine.

Degenerative changes: As the spine ages, the intervertebral discs can degenerate, causing them to lose their height and elasticity. This can result in a shift in the position of the vertebrae, leading to spondylolisthesis.

Trauma: A sudden, forceful impact to the spine can cause a vertebra to shift out of place, resulting in spondylolisthesis.

Repetitive stress: Repetitive activities that place excessive stress on the spine, such as weightlifting or gymnastics, can also increase the risk of spondylolisthesis.

Tumors: Rarely, tumors or other growths can develop on the spine and cause a vertebra to shift out of place, leading to spondylolisthesis.

Surgery: In some cases, surgery on the spine can weaken the spinal structures and result in spondylolisthesis.

It’s important to note that not everyone who has these risk factors will develop spondylolisthesis, and the condition can occur without any known cause. If you are experiencing symptoms of spondylolisthesis, it’s important to see a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Signs and Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis

The signs and symptoms of spondylolisthesis can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the location of the affected vertebra. Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Back pain: The most common symptom of spondylolisthesis is lower back pain, which can range from mild to severe and may be worse with certain activities or positions.
  • Muscle tightness or stiffness: Tightness or stiffness in the back muscles can accompany the pain.
  • Nerve compression: If the displaced vertebra is pressing on a nerve, it can cause symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs or feet.
  • Changes in gait or posture: As spondylolisthesis progresses, changes in gait or posture may occur, such as a waddling gait or a tendency to lean forward.
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control: In severe cases, spondylolisthesis can compress the spinal cord and cause a loss of bladder or bowel control, which requires immediate medical attention.

It’s important to note that not everyone with spondylolisthesis will experience symptoms, and the severity of symptoms can vary widely. If you are experiencing back pain or other symptoms, it’s important to see a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Treatment for Spondylolisthesis

Physiotherapy can be an effective treatment for spondylolisthesis, particularly for mild to moderate cases. A physiotherapist can work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses your specific needs and symptoms. Here are some common physiotherapy interventions that may be used to treat spondylolisthesis:

Manual therapy: Manual therapy techniques, such as joint mobilization or manipulation, can help to reduce pain and improve mobility in the affected area.

Exercise therapy: A physiotherapist can design an exercise program to help strengthen the muscles of the back, abdomen, and legs, which can help to support the spine and improve posture. Exercises may include stretches, resistance training, and aerobic exercise.

Postural education: A physiotherapist can teach you how to maintain good posture during daily activities, which can help to prevent further progression of spondylolisthesis.

Pain management techniques: A physiotherapist can teach you techniques to help manage pain, such as heat or cold therapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), or relaxation techniques.

Education and advice: A physiotherapist can provide advice on lifestyle modifications, such as modifying certain activities or avoiding certain positions, that can help to reduce symptoms and prevent further damage to the spine.

It’s important to note that treatment for spondylolisthesis should be tailored to your specific needs and goals, and may require a combination of different interventions. A healthcare professional, such as a physiotherapist or physician, can help you develop a comprehensive treatment plan.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a therapist about spondylolisthesis please call us at 03 9836 1126.



Mehra, A., & Baker, J. G. (2017). Low back pain in a young athlete with spondylolysis: a case report on the role of early physiotherapy intervention. Physiotherapy Canada

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