Causes may be:

  • Abnormal structure of the vertebrae that is present at birth, such as spina bifida
  • Spondylolysis—a stress fracture in the spine that makes the vertebra unstable
  • Wear and tear from the normal aging process
  • Trauma
  • Diseases, such as Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Spinal surgery

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of spondylolisthesis are:

  • Having a family member with it
  • Having spondylolysis



Most people do not have symptoms. Those who do may have:

  • Back pain and stiffness
  • Pain that may spread down to the legs
  • Muscle spasms in the back of the thighs
  • Problems standing and walking
  • Tingling, numbness, or weakness in one or both legs


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

Pictures will be taken of the spine. This can be done with:

  • X-ray
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan



People who do not have symptoms may not need treatment. In others, the goal is to manage symptoms. Choices are:

  • Supportive care, such as limiting activities to allow the area to rest
  • Physical therapy to promote strength, flexibility, and range of motion
  • A back brace to stabilize the spine
  • Medicines, such as:
    • Pain relievers
    • Muscle relaxants

People who are not helped by these methods may need surgery. It may also be done if the bone has severely slipped. Spinal fusion may be done to fuse two vertebrae together to stabilize the spine.


There are no known guidelines to prevent spondylolisthesis.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.