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Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis


Spondylolysis is a defect or fracture of one or both of the wing-shaped parts of a vertebra. It most often happens in the vertebrae of the lower spine. The wing-shaped parts help keep the vertebrae in place. When they are missing or damaged, a vertebra can slide forward or backward over the bone below it, sometimes pressing on the spinal cord or a nerve root.

This slipping is called spondylolisthesis. It can cause back or buttock pain and pain that runs from the lower back down one or both legs. It may cause numbness or weakness in one or both legs. Sometimes it causes no symptoms.

Defects or fractures in the wing-shaped parts can have different causes. Some people are born with a missing or damaged wing-shaped piece. This part of a vertebra may get damaged from playing sports or doing strenuous activity, especially during the pre-teen and teen years. Normal changes that come with aging can weaken this part of a vertebra and lead to fractures or other damage.

Treatment for spondylolisthesis begins with stopping any physical activity that may have led to vertebrae damage or that increases pain. For pain, your doctor may suggest using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen. Physiotherapy may help to build up stomach and back muscles (core strengthening). Losing weight, if you need to, may also help. When pain is extreme or bones continue to move, surgery can sometimes help.


Current as of: November 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine