Common Causes of Spine Pain

Spondylolysis / Spondylolisthesis / Spondylosis

Spondylolysis is a term used to describe a stress fracture or defect in the vertebrae that make up the spinal column. If the stress fracture weakens so much that the vertebrae is unable to maintain its position, it may slip out of place pressing on nerves and causing pain. This condition is known as spondylolisthesis. Though this condition is most commonly found in young athletes involved in sports that require repeated hyperextension of the lower back, it can also present itself in older adults who experience a degeneration in the disc and the facet joints, which can allow slippage even without a fracture. Spondylosis is a common term used to describe arthritis of the spine.

Video Transcript

This condition occurs when a lumbar vertebra slips out of place. It slides forward, distorting the shape of your spine. This may compress the nerves in the spinal canal. The nerves that exit the foramen (open spaces on the sides of your vertebrae) may also be compressed. These compressed nerves can cause pain and other problems.


Spondylolisthesis has a variety of causes. In children, it is often due to a birth defect in that area of the spine. Some people develop this condition because of an overuse injury called "spondylolysis." This is a stress fracture of the vertebral bone. In adults, arthritis and the loss of disc elasticity that results from aging are the most common causes of spondylolisthesis.


Less commonly, spondylolisthesis can result from a sudden injury that leads to a broken vertebra. Diseases or tumors that weaken the spine can also result in spondylolisthesis.


Symptoms vary from person to person. Many people who have this condition have no symptoms at all. If you do have symptoms, you may experience pain in your lower back. You may have hamstring spasms. Pain may spread down your leg to your foot. You may also have foot numbness and tingling.


Treatment options depend on the severity of your condition. You may benefit from rest. Medications may relieve your pain. A back brace may also help. And, you may benefit from physical therapy. If those methods are not successful, you may benefit from a surgical procedure to reduce nerve compression or to stabilize your spine.