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What Is Anterolisthesis?

In layman's terms, Anterolisthesisis is often referred to as an abnormal alignment of the spine's bones. It is a condition that leads to pain, weakness, and muscle spasms, usually in the lower back. It occurs when one vertebra – a type of bone that forms the spinal column – is positioned abnormally compared to the vertebra below.

A human skeleton consists of 33 vertebrae, which are stacked on each other. Several conditions may cause a vertebra to slip forward. Besides anterolisthesis, they include osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, fracture, and trauma. The misaligned vertebra may affect not only the lower back but also the legs and arms due to pinched nerves.

The severity of symptoms varies from person to person, which depends on the amount of slippage of the affected bone. Doctors use a scale to grade slippage by measuring how far the vertebra moved compared to the bone below it. Mild cases of anterolisthesis can be treated with bed rest, while more serious cases require surgery, medication, or surgery.

Is Anterolisthesis Dangerous?

The severity of anterolisthesis depends on several factors, including the amount of slippage, the patient's response to symptoms, affected body parts, and how much the condition interferes with an individual's daily life. Some people experience only mild symptoms and discomfort and can be treated without surgery. However, anterolisthesis may progress, increasing the degree of slippage. When that happens, symptoms may worsen, lowering the individual's quality of life.

It is important to note that the evaluation of anterolisthesis should be done by a healthcare professional who can assess the specific circumstances, particularly the percentage of slippage, and recommend appropriate treatments. See the paragraph below for more details about the grades of slippage.

Grades of Slippage

Doctors use five grades of slippageTrusted Source according to the Meyerding classification system to determine the severity of anterolisthesis. These include the following:

Grades I and II are considered mild amounts of slip, while grades III to V are severe. The most serious form of anterolisthesis, which is grade V, is known as spondyloptosis, a term used when the slippage is more than 100%.

In spondyloptosis, an affected vertebra slips so far that it is no longer congruent with the bone below it. While anterolisthesis involves a partial forward displacement of vertebrae and is usually less severe, spondyloptosis is a complete and more dangerous forward displacement that often requires surgery as a treatment.

Anterolisthesis: What Is, Causes, Risk Factors, and Treatment


There are several possible causes leading to the development of anterolisthesis. One of the most common causes involves physical trauma, which can occur suddenly or develop over time. The following circumstances may lead to trauma:

Vertebra slippage may occur suddenly due to blunt force or fractures caused by accidents or develop gradually over time during physical activity that puts a lot of strain on the body.

Anterolisthesis may also develop naturally because of agingTrusted Source, another common cause leading to this condition. The proper position and stability of the vertebrae are supported by joints and ligaments, which weaken as we age. The instability of vertebrae can result in anterolisthesis and degenerative spondylolisthesis.

Less commonly, causes of anterolisthesis include tumors that may move the vertebra out of its proper position and genetic spinal growth defects in children.

Risk Factors

People over 50 years old are most likely to develop anterolisthesis due to weakened joints and ligaments that stabilize vertebrae. It usually progresses faster in women than in menTrusted Source.

Natural aging processes also make individuals more susceptible to injuries caused by accidents and physical strain. Vertebrae are more likely to slip in physically active older people than adults and children who engage in sports.

However, intense, strenuous activities put at risk people of all ages. It especially applies to individuals who lift heavy weights.

You can reduce the risk of developing anterolisthesis by applying the following steps:

It is important to remember that anterolisthesis can have various causes. While you can minimize the risk by following specific guidelines, there is no guarantee that you will completely prevent it. If you experience any back pain, discomfort, or other symptoms related to your spine, seek medical attention as soon as possible to address any issues before they progress further.

Anterolisthesis: What Is, Causes, Risk Factors, and Treatment

First Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms and affected body parts depend on the degree of vertebra slippage. If slippage is enough to affect the nerves that go from the spinal cord to other body parts, symptoms are more likely to appear. Some people don't experience any health issues if the amount of slippage is mild (Grade I and IITrusted Source).

For Grades III, IV, and V, the following symptoms are most likely to occur:

Less commonly, anterolisthesis may lead to these severe health issues:


If you experience any of the above symptoms, particularly persistent pain in the legs or lower back, contact your health provider as soon as possible. Untreated anterolisthesis can result in nerve damage, long-term pain, and mobility issues. It's crucial to receive diagnosis and treatment early to avoid severe symptoms that may lower the functionality of your body. As the anterolisthesis progresses, pain and other issues get worse, which can heavily impact an individual's daily life.

Diagnosis and Tests

Diagnosis of anterolisthesis encompasses a physical exam, tests, and determining the degree of vertebra slippage. During an initial examination, doctors usually assess the patient's senses, reflexes, and muscle strength. The next step is to rule out other conditions and grade the amount of slippage of the affected vertebra based on the following tests:


Treatment for anterolisthesis is tailored to an individual's specific needs, which depend on the degree of slippage, causes, age, and affected body parts. Grade I and II usually aim to reduce pain and discomfort with over-the-counter pain relievers, bed rest, and exercises. Chronic cases (Grades III, IV, and V) require other forms of treatment, including medicines, therapies, and surgeries.


Pain and discomfort caused by severe anterolisthesis can be alleviated by Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugsTrusted Source (NSAIDs). In cases where acute pain is the main complaint, doctors may recommend steroids and opioids.

Physical Therapy

People who experience complicated and more serious symptoms can benefit from physical therapies and exercise programs that aim to strengthen muscles around the spine and improve overall mobility.


Surgery is the last line of defense against severe anterolisthesis. It is recommended if symptoms do not improve despite other forms of treatment and the vertebra keeps slipping further. People who need to undergo surgery often suffer from decreased mobility, impaired coordination, and difficulty walking caused by nerve compression.

Two types of surgery treat anterolisthesis:

Prognosis for Anterolisthesis Patients

Anterolisthesis is not considered a life-threatening condition. Its severe forms, known as Grades III, IV, and V of vertebra slippage, are not observed as often as mild forms. In many cases, anterolisthesis is found incidentally during x-ray and MRI scans to diagnose other conditions. Many people with an abnormal alignment of the spine's bones do not notice any changes in their bodies or experience mild issues that go away on their own.

People with mild anterolisthesis who seek treatment usually do not need surgery and recover thanks to rest and exercise. Fortunately, when there is a reason for surgical treatment, 85% of patients report satisfactory outcomes, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

How to Manage Anterolisthesis at Home?

While anterolisthesis often requires medical evaluation and treatment, there are some self-care tips that individuals with this condition can apply to help manage their symptoms and promote overall spinal health:

Self-care measures may be particularly beneficial to those with milder cases or as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan. However, they should complement, but not replace, the professional medical advice and treatment for anterolisthesis.

Anterolisthesis: What Is, Causes, Risk Factors, and Treatment

Key Facts You Should Know

Anterolisthesis is an abnormal alignment of spinal vertebrae, often causing lower back pain, weakness, and muscle spasms. It results from one vertebra slipping forward relative to the one below.

This condition can result from various factors, including physical trauma, aging, and intense physical activities. The severity of anterolisthesis varies, graded from I to V, with higher grades indicating more severe vertebra slippage. Grade V, known as spondyloptosis, is the most severe form and requires surgery.

Treatment options range from medications and physical therapy for mild cases to surgery for severe ones. Self-care plays a significant role in managing anterolisthesis and includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle, proper posture, and staying active.

Anterolisthesis can heavily impact an individual's daily life, so it is essential to seek medical evaluation and treatment as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and intervention can prevent complications like long-term pain and nerve damage.

Overall, while anterolisthesis can be a challenging condition, timely diagnosis and adequate management can result in satisfactory outcomes and a better quality of life for affected individuals.


October 31, 2023
9 minutes read

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