Spondylosis, Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis

Spondylosis, spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are three different ways that the human spine can degenerate over time. Spondylo means spine and is the prefix for these three issues. There are different reasons that someone’s spine goes south over time but everyone’s spine degenerates; it’s merely a matter of degree. Genetics definitely play a part. Some people are simply born with a compromised spine. Imitation plays apart as well and I often think that imitation trumps genetics in certain cases. Do we move like one parent because our DNA is similar to theirs or is it that you bonded with one parent more and imitated the way they move?

The spine wears down from the normal process of ageing and desiccating. We are basically born a liquid (certainly in liquid) and die a solid. We are drying up from the minute we are born. And slowing down the drying process slows down the ageing process. This is one reason why exercise and diet are so essential to managing how we grow old.

The spine also suffers when the muscles that surround it are not strong enough to support it. The body works as well as the nervous system works. The nervous system is dependent on a vertical spine that extends with enough space for the nerves of the peripheral nervous systems to pass through the spine to the rest of our body. When the muscles surrounding the spine are lacking tone the spinal column basically collapses on itself which could lead to spondylosis, spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis, though it is not my take that this is the main cause of these issues.

xray spondylosis

Spondylosis refers to osteophytes, or bone spurs that come away from the body of the vertebrae. As with all of these issues, they don’t always cause pain. Only if the degeneration leads to an exposure of the nerve root or compression of the nerve will pain occur.


Spondylolysis most of the vertebra consist of a body, pedicle, lamina, pars interarticularis, transverse process, spinous process and superior articular facets. Together these parts form joints that link the vertebrae together. The pars interarticularis is the weakest link in the chain and spondylolysis is basically a stress fracture of the pars interarticularis.


Spondylolisthesis is more intense that either of the first two spondylos. Spondylolisthesis involves an entire disc shifting forward (or sometimes back), very often following the fracture of the pars interarticularis. This happens most often in the lumbar spine but can occur anywhere.

All of these issues can be asymptomatic and never cause pain and discomfort. They can also lead to minor tightening or stiffening, and in sever instances can result in intense chronic pain that leads to a loss of quality of life.

Improving our posture and core tone will go a long way to supporting the spine through life. Having a spine that suffers with spondylosis, spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis is not the end of the world but this type of spine requires more awareness and muscular support to get through life.