Spondylolisthesis vs. Spondylolysis

What's the Difference?

Spondylolisthesis and Spondylolysis are both conditions that affect the spine, specifically the vertebrae. Spondylolysis is a stress fracture in the pars interarticularis, a small bony segment between the facet joints in the back of the spine. This can lead to instability in the spine and potentially result in Spondylolisthesis, where one vertebra slips forward over the one below it. While Spondylolysis is a precursor to Spondylolisthesis, they are separate conditions that require different treatment approaches. Spondylolisthesis may require more invasive treatments such as surgery, while Spondylolysis can often be managed with conservative measures such as rest and physical therapy.


CauseVertebra slips forward over the one below itStress fracture in the pars interarticularis
SymptomsBack pain, leg pain, numbness or weakness in legsBack pain, stiffness, muscle spasms
DiagnosisX-rays, MRI, CT scanX-rays, MRI, CT scan
TreatmentPhysical therapy, bracing, surgeryRest, physical therapy, bracing

Further Detail


Spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis are two common spinal conditions that can cause back pain and discomfort. While they may sound similar, they are actually distinct conditions with different causes and symptoms. In this article, we will compare the attributes of spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis to help you better understand these conditions.


Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which one vertebra slips forward over the vertebra below it. This can occur in any part of the spine, but it most commonly affects the lower back. Spondylolysis, on the other hand, is a stress fracture in the pars interarticularis, a small bony segment of the vertebra. This fracture can weaken the vertebra and lead to spondylolisthesis if left untreated.


Spondylolisthesis can be caused by a variety of factors, including congenital abnormalities, trauma, degenerative changes in the spine, and repetitive stress on the spine. In contrast, spondylolysis is typically caused by repetitive stress on the spine, such as that experienced by athletes who participate in sports that involve hyperextension of the spine, like gymnastics or football.


The symptoms of spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis can be similar, including lower back pain, stiffness, and muscle spasms. However, spondylolisthesis may also cause symptoms such as leg pain, numbness, and weakness if the slipped vertebra compresses a nerve. Spondylolysis, on the other hand, may cause localized pain in the lower back that worsens with activity and improves with rest.


Both spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis can be diagnosed through a combination of physical examination, medical history, and imaging tests. X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans can help healthcare providers visualize the spine and identify any abnormalities. In some cases, a bone scan may be used to detect stress fractures in the vertebrae.


The treatment for spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis may vary depending on the severity of the condition and the symptoms experienced by the patient. Conservative treatments such as rest, physical therapy, and pain medication may be recommended for mild cases. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to stabilize the spine and relieve pressure on the nerves.


While it may not be possible to prevent spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis entirely, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of developing these conditions. Maintaining good posture, avoiding activities that put excessive stress on the spine, and practicing proper lifting techniques can help protect the spine from injury. Strengthening the muscles that support the spine through regular exercise can also help prevent these conditions.

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