Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which a bone (vertebra) in the spine slips out of the proper position onto the bone below it.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
In children, spondylolisthesis usually occurs between the fifth bone in the lower back (lumbar vertebra) and the first bone in the sacrum (pelvis) area. It is often due to a birth defect in that area of the spine or sudden injury (acute trauma).
In adults, the most common cause is abnormal wear on the cartilage and bones (such as arthritis).
Bone disease and fractures can also cause spondylolisthesis. Certain sport activities -- such as gymnastics, weight lifting, and football -- put a great deal of stress on the bones in the lower back. They also require that the athlete constantly overstretch (hyperextend) the spine. This can lead to a stress fracture on one or both sides of the vertebra. A stress fracture can cause a spinal bone to become weak and shift out of place.
Spondylolisthesis may vary from mild to severe. A person with spondylolisthesis may have no symptoms.
The condition can produce increased lordosis (also called swayback), but in later stages may result in kyphosis (roundback) as the upper spine falls off the lower spine.
Symptoms may include:
Lower back pain
Muscle tightness (tight hamstring muscle)
Pain, numbness, or tingling in the thighs and buttocks
Tenderness in the area of the slipped disc
Weakness in the legs
Signs and tests
Your doctor or nurse will examine you and feel your spine. You will be asked to raise your leg straight out in front of you. This may be uncomfortable or painful.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.