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What is Spondylolisthesis?


If you have been directed to this area of my website, it is because you have a unique spinal condition called Spondylolisthesis. It is a big and potentially "scary" term, so let's see if we can clear up the mystery behind it. Lets break the word down into its two components:

Spondylo - means "spine"

listhesis - means "slippage"


A Spondylolisthesis by definition is: "The forward slippage of one vertebrae upon the one beneath it."

How does a spondylolisthesis occur? It occurs as the result of a crack of fracture in the rear portion of the vertebrae known as the "Pars." For this reason, in scientific circles it is referred to as a "pars defect." The cause of the crack or fracture is considered to be related to a traumatic event. There is some evidence to lead us to believe that some of us are more prone to this type of injury than others. It seems to run in the family leading us to believe it may be due to a genetic weakness.

By its nature it has the potential to produce pressure on the local spinal nerves or spinal cord. The most common area for it to occur is the last or lowest vertebrae of your spine called the 5th lumbar. Spondylolisthesis is graded according to the degree of slippage on a scale of 1 to 4 with 1 being minimal slippage and 4 being maximum slippage.

General facts concerning Spondylolisthesis

  • Eskimos have a 40-50% occurrence of spondylolisthesis but not that high an incidence of pain with it
  • Identified in humans only, never been found in the animal world
  • 5-6% of males and 2-3% of females have spondylolisthesis
  • Overall 6.2% of the population have a spondylolisthesis
  • There is a higher incidence in athletes than there is in the normal population
  • Earliest one found was in a 3 month old infant
  • There is no known incidence of someone being born with a spondylolisthesis
  • Approximately half of the people with spondylolisthesis, remember how it happened (childhood accident or trauma)
  • The degree of pain does not correlate with the degree of slippage, meaning that a small slippage may produce a lot of pain and large slippage may produce minimal pain 
  • The incidence of spondylolisthesis is greater in the family tree than it is in the general population. One out of three family members will have it
  • Most people with a spondylolisthesis have no pain with it
  • A spondylolisthesis by its nature is unstable, meaning that it is loose and wobbly and not held very well in place compared to a normal vertebra


What is a Spondylolysis? A spondylolysis is a vertebrae that has a "Crack or Fracture" in it, however the vertebrae has not yet slipped.

Approximately 50% of individuals with a spondylolysis will go on to develop a spondylolisthesis. You will notice in the diagram to the right that the arrow is pointing to a "Crack or Fracture" in the back portion of the vertebrae, however the vertebrae itself has not slipped forward.

What is a Degenerative Spondylolisthesis? A degenerative spondylolisthesis does not have a "crack or fracture" in it however due to severe disc degeneration combined with severe arthritic degeneration, the vertebrae has slipped forward upon the one beneath it. This is a condition of the elderly. The diagram below shows two vertebrae that are very close together due to severe disc degeneration. The vertebrae directly above the very thin disc space has slipped slightly forward. This is a typical Degenerative Spondylolisthesis.


Below is a diagram of a Degenerative Spondylolisthesis

DegSpondyK neck2 Spondylolisthesis can be effectively treated with Chiropractic Adjustments and Cox Flexion Distraction - Protocol II, a form of spinal decompression done by the doctor which helps to gently mobilize the individual vertebrae of the spine allowing them to assume a more appropriate position. Physical therapy in the form of electrical muscle stimulation and core stabilization muscle exercises can also be helpful, both are available at this office. Because of the break down in cartilage in and around a spondylolisthesis, a good nutritional joint formula is also recommended.  For detailed treatment information, click on the "Spinal Decompression" link on this web site. 

If you, or a loved one, are experiencing pain contact our office to schedule a free NO obligation consultation with the doctor or email Dr. Garber with a question concerning your case for a quick response. Garber Chiropractic Care Center 770-386-7707
Chiropractic Care and Pain Relief for Cartersville, Acworth, Taylorsville, White and Euharlee GA.