Spondylolisthesis

In plain language, spondylolisthesis means the abnormal forward placement of a vertebral body in relationship to another vertebral body.  It is more than a “slip of a disk”.

To understand the finding,  we must first understand the normal orientation of the vertebral bodies to each other,  and the nature of the structures of the spine.

The spine has a function of providing structure,  flexibility,  and protection of the nerves that come out from the brain into the body.

Nerves carry communication from the brain to the various organs,  ligament and muscles of the body.  In addition,  the nerves carry information to tell the brain if the coordination of the various body parts are achieving the intended action,  and also protects the body from any harmful insult.

The spine is a collections of functions spine units (FSU),  which comprises of two vertebrae,  connected together by a disc, two facet joints in the back,  and the associated ligaments that hold the facet joints,  and the vertebra together.  The FSU also protects the nerve tissues that occupy the center of the spine unit,  and protects the nerves as the exit out the holes of the FSU (foramen).

In spondylolisthesis,  the FSU no longer functions normally,  and the vertebral bodies are no longer oriented  in alignment.  To make that concept easier,  if you place two same sized rings on top of each other,  that would be the normal orientation.  When you look a the rings through the top or bottom opening,  you will see a round circle.  You can easily see an object passing through the center of the two rings,  and the space would be uniform.

In this example,  to demonstrate a spondylolisthesis,  have one ring placed out of alignment to the other ring,  therefore causing the opening hole now narrower in size.  The once circular hole is not more oblong.  If you further displace the rings from each other,  that oblong space will become narrower and smaller.  That is the analogy of spondylolisthesis.  The vertebra,  in the back, consists of a ring that allows the spinal cord or nerves pass through the center.  If the vertebral rings shift,  that is spondylolisthesis.

Spondylolisthesis can be caused by ligament laxity, or stretching that allows the vertebral ring to shift forward of each other.  That usually requires an incompetent disc,  and the ligaments associated with the capsules of the facet joints and the various interspinous ligaments.

Spondylolisthesis can be caused by  a fracture of the back of the vertebra in the area of the pars intraarticularis,  causing extra stress to the disc and ligaments,  resulting in the shifting of the vertebral rings on one another.

Spondylolisthesis can the result of a congenital development,  a degenerative development,  or a traumatic event.

Hi, I'm Dr. John Shim, and I'd like to discuss a very difficult term to pronounce. Spondylolithesis. In latin, Spondylo means spine, and Lithesis means slippage. Spondylolisthesis means the abnormal forward placement of a vertebral body in relationship to another vertebral body. It actually is more than just a “slip of a disk”. To make that concept easier, if you place two same sized rings on top of each other, that would be considered a normal orientation. When you look a the rings through the top or the bottom opening, you'll see a round circle. You can see an object can pass through the center of the two rings, and the space itself is round and uniform. To demonstrate spondylolisthesis, have one of those rings placed out of alignment to the other ring, therefore causing that opening hole to narrow in size. The once circular hole is now more oblong. If you further displace the rings from each other, that oblong space will become narrower and smaller. That is the analogy of the effect of the spondylolisthesis. The vertebra, or the bones of the spine, in the back, consists of a ring that also allows the spinal cord or nerves pass through its center. Well, if these vertebral rings shift on top of each other, just like the two rings shifting on top of each other - this is that process of spondylolisthesis. It causes a potential narrowing of the space for the spinal cord or the nerves. Spondylolisthesis can be caused by ligament laxity, or stretching, that allows the vertebral rings to shift forward on one another. In addition, the discs that have been compromised also allow this abnormal movement. Spondylolisthesis can be caused by a fracture of the back of the vertebra in the area of the pars intraarticularis. This results in the shifting of the vertebral rings on to one another. Spondylolisthesis can also be the result of a congenital development, in other words, you were born that way, or a degenerative development, in other words, as you age, your ligaments stretch out and the discs become more mobile, or as we stated above, a traumatic event to the pars intraarticularis. I know the term can be difficult to pronounce, but this is a very important finding, and can be a cause of back pain. I hope this video helped you understand the meaning. Thanks for listening. I'm Dr. John Shim discussing Spondylolithesis. If you would like more information about similar topics, please subscribe to our newsletter or our YouTube channel. Thank you.

Last modified: December 11, 2019

31 thoughts on “Spondylolisthesis

  1. Plz suggest remedies to overcome the problem. I hv lumber back pain. And there is gap between L4 & L5 in my disc. Plz suggest me what is remedy.

    1. We do not provide opinions or a diagnosis on patients we have not personally examined. Please see your primary physician to get names of reputable spine physicians you can see.

    1. Please look at some of the videos and blogs on this website. We are strong proponents of prevention, exercise, stretching and learning how to do all of this correctly to prevent injury. A strong core will be your most valuable asset.

  2. I have been to 4 doctor 1 orthopedic and 3 neurosurgeon the doctor said I had spondyloisthesis is there a exercise that I can do to help with for pain.

    1. Hi Barbara, Get one of these physicians to recommend a Physical Therapy group that does a lot of spine work. Movement is your ally. Please check out the exercises provided on the website and download the app. They really work!

    1. Please discuss this with your physician and physical therapist. AS is a chronic disease and should be managed as such.

    1. I’m sorry. We do not provide opinions or a diagnosis on patients we have not personally examined. Please see your primary physician to get names of reputable spine physicians you can see.

    2. We do not provide opinions or a diagnosis on patients we have not personally examined. Please see your primary physician to get names of reputable spine physicians you can see.

  3. I have a chronic lumbar strain. i had 10 sessions of theraphy. As of now I’m wearing back support. All I want to know if this will be back again in normal position and how long? I’m 53 yrs. old. and I’m a teacher. is there a medication for me to take just to bring back in normal position?

    1. We do not make any recommendations, beyond the blogs and video’s, without actually seeing the patient. Please note that exercise will help much more than a brace.

    1. Physical therapy is always a good option as a starting point. They will teach you body mechanics and what to avoid as you are getting better.

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