Spondylolisthesis: Definition and What it is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT

Spondylolisthesis Definition and Meaning

Spondylolisthesis is when one of the vertebrae (bones) in the spine shifts out of its position. While this often causes no signs or symptoms, if the affected vertebra presses on nearby nerves, it can lead to back pain that may also radiate down the legs. Spondylolisthesis can affect any vertebrae along the spine, but it's most common in the lumbar spine (low back).  

Spondylolisthesis Symptoms

Spondylolisthesis symptoms can vary depending on the severity and location of the affected vertebra. For some people, the condition doesn’t cause any pain. If you do experience symptoms, they’ll often include: low back pain, stiffness, and muscle tightness. In more severe cases, you may experience leg pain, numbness, or weakness due to nerve irritation or compression. 

Spondylolisthesis: A Hinge Health Perspective

Learning about conditions that cause pain can be scary, and the prospect of hearing that any of your vertebrae have moved out of their position can be understandably alarming. But we know from Hinge Health members and research studies that anatomical labels can backfire when it comes to your treatment and recovery. When people hear they may have a condition like spondylolisthesis, it can cause feelings of panic, like you have something "wrong" that needs to be fixed. This way of thinking about pain is largely outdated.

For most common musculoskeletal conditions, regardless of what may or may not be contributing to pain, the solution is often the same. Movement — through physical and exercise therapy — can build strength, flexibility, and resilience to pain in and around the spine. 

Spondylolisthesis Treatment

First-line treatment options for spondylolisthesis, such as physical therapy, exercise, and pain medication, can provide lasting relief and are recommended for most cases to reduce pain and improve function. In more severe cases or for individuals not responding well to these treatments, surgery may be considered.

How Physical Therapy Can Help With Spondylolisthesis

Physical therapy can play a key role in the management and treatment of spondylolisthesis. A physical therapist (PT) can design a program tailored to your symptoms, focusing on strengthening your core and back muscles, improving flexibility, and promoting spinal stability. This approach not only helps to alleviate symptoms but also aids in preventing further changes to the spine. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. 

Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. Park, D. K. (2021, September). Adult Spondylolisthesis in the Low Back. OrthoInfo - AAOS. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/adult-spondylolisthesis-in-the-low-back/ 

  2. Tenny, S., & Gillis, C. C. (2020). Spondylolisthesis. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430767/ 

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