Spondylolisthesis, Spondylosis, Spondylolysis: What’s the Difference?

Navigating your back pain can be difficult, and the complicated names of some of the most popular conditions don’t help. If you’ve recently seen a spine specialist in Philadelphia or New Jersey and were diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, spondylosis, or spondylolysis, you may be having a hard time Googling information about your condition and wondering why anyone would name three conditions so similarly.

In Greek, spondylos means spine and lysis means break, so that gives you a good indication of how similar these conditions are. Even with their similarities, though, they are many differences, which we have outlined:


If you have spondylolisthesis, it means your lower vertebrae has slipped out of position, causing it to touch the bone underneath it. This condition may be a result of a birth defect, injury, many years of playing sports, or genetics. Most people experience persistent pain in the lower back, stiffness in the lower back and legs, and muscle spasms, but more mild cases may exhibit only some of these symptoms or none at all. If you have been diagnosed with this condition, a spine specialist in Philadelphia and New Jersey will offer several options, including bracing, physical therapy, injections, or surgery. Learn more about spondylolisthesis here.


This is another name for spinal arthritis. It is a fairly common condition that is caused by the daily wear and tear your spine experiences as you age. That’s why it’s most often diagnosed in older adults – although, some younger individuals may start displaying symptoms if the condition runs in your family. Spondylosis causes pain in one area of the back or neck, numbness, weakness, and loss of range-of-motion and can lead to more serious conditions, including spondylolisthesis. Most cases can be treated with physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medications, but sometimes surgery is necessary. Learn more about spondylosis here.


Most commonly found in athletic individuals under the age of 25, this condition is a stress fracture between two vertebrae. Spondylolysis is a result of repeated twisting and turning on the spine, overuse, repetitive stress, or genetics. Depending on how many breaks occur, this condition can lead to spondylolisthesis. While symptoms often depend on the degree and location of the fracture, most people experience back aches, localized pain, stiffness, limited range-of-motion, and muscle weakness or pain. Your spine specialist may recommend bracing, physical therapy, injections, or surgery based on the condition’s severity. Learn more about spondylolysis here.

If you’re looking for a spine specialist in Philadelphia or New Jersey, we treat all three of these conditions at our spine center in South Jersey. At Coastal Spine, we take a non-surgical approach toward back and neck pain – we exhaust all other treatment options before surgery is on the table.

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