Anterolisthesis vs Spondylolisthesis: Understanding the Differences

Back pain is one of the most common complaints in the United States, affecting millions of people each year. Among the various causes of back pain, anterolisthesis, and spondylolisthesis are two conditions that can cause significant discomfort and affect quality of life. 

In this article, we will define anterolisthesis and spondylolisthesis, compare and contrast the two conditions, and discuss the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for each.

Anterolisthesis vs Spondylolisthesis

Anterolisthesis and spondylolisthesis are two related but distinct conditions that affect the spine. Both conditions involve the displacement of one vertebra to another. The difference between the two lies in the direction of the displacement.

Anterolisthesis occurs when a vertebra in the spine slips forward and out of alignment with the vertebra below it. This can cause compression of the spinal nerves, leading to pain and other symptoms.

Spondylolisthesis, on the other hand, occurs when a vertebra slips backward and out of alignment with the vertebra above it. Like anterolisthesis, spondylolisthesis can cause compression of the spinal nerves and associated symptoms.

Causes of Anterolisthesis and Spondylolisthesis

The causes of anterolisthesis and spondylolisthesis are similar, although there are some important differences. 

In both cases, the underlying cause is usually a defect or fracture in the pars interarticularis, a small bony structure that connects adjacent vertebrae. This defect can occur as a result of:

  • Congenital abnormalities or genetic predisposition
  • Trauma or injury to the spine
  • Repetitive stress or strain on the spine
  • Age-related degeneration of the spine

The difference between the two conditions lies in the direction of the displacement. In anterolisthesis, the defect causes the vertebra to slip forward, while in spondylolisthesis, it causes the vertebra to slip backward.

Symptoms of Anterolisthesis and Spondylolisthesis

The symptoms of anterolisthesis and spondylolisthesis can be similar, even though they may vary depending on the severity and location of the condition. Some common symptoms include:

  • Lower back pain
  • Stiffness or limited mobility in the back
  • Numbness or tingling in the legs or feet
  • Weakness in the legs or feet
  • Difficulty standing or walking
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control (in severe cases)

In general, the symptoms of anterolisthesis tend to be more localized to the lower back, while those of spondylolisthesis may be more diffuse and involve other areas of the body.


Diagnosing anterolisthesis and spondylolisthesis typically involves a combination of physical examination, imaging studies, and medical history. During the physical exam, a doctor may assess the patient’s range of motion, muscle strength, and reflexes.

 Imaging studies, such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs, can help to visualize the spinal structures and determine the extent of the displacement. Medical history can also provide important clues to the underlying cause of the condition.

What are the Treatment Options 

The treatment options for anterolisthesis and spondylolisthesis depend on the location, severity, and underlying cause. In some cases, conservative treatment methods may be effective, while in others, surgery may be necessary.

Conservative Treatment

Conservative treatment methods for anterolisthesis and spondylolisthesis may include:

  • Rest and activity modification: Avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms and taking rest breaks throughout the day can help alleviate pain and promote healing.
  • Physical therapy: Exercises and stretches can help improve muscle strength and flexibility, reduce pain, and improve the range of motion in the affected area.
  • Pain management: Over-the-counter pain medications or prescription medications can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Bracing: A back brace or support may help stabilize the spine and reduce pain.

Surgical Treatment

Surgical treatment options for anterolisthesis and spondylolisthesis may include:

  • Fusion: In cases where the displacement is severe or progressive, fusion surgery may be recommended. This involves fusing the affected vertebrae to prevent further displacement and stabilize the spine.
  • Laminectomy: This procedure involves removing a portion of the affected vertebra to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves.
  • Artificial disc replacement: In some cases, an artificial disc may replace the affected vertebra, which can help preserve mobility and flexibility in the spine.

Prevention of Anterolisthesis vs Spondylolisthesis

Preventing anterolisthesis and spondylolisthesis involves maintaining a healthy lifestyle and taking steps to reduce the risk of injury to the spine. Some preventative measures may include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Regular exercise, especially exercises that strengthen the core muscles and support the spine
  • Proper lifting techniques
  • Good posture
  • Avoiding repetitive motions or activities that strain the spine

Comparison Table: Anterolisthesis vs. Spondylolisthesis

To summarize the similarities and differences between anterolisthesis and spondylolisthesis, see the table below:

DefinitionForward displacement ofBackward displacement of
vertebrae in the spinevertebrae in the spine
CausesDefect or fracture inDefect or fracture in
the pars interarticularisthe pars interarticularis
SymptomsLower back pain,Lower back pain,
stiffness, numbness orstiffness, numbness or
tingling in legs/feet,tingling in legs/feet,
weakness in legs/feet,weakness in legs/feet,
difficulty standing/walking.difficulty standing/walking.
DiagnosisPhysical exam, imagingPhysical exam, imaging
studies, medical history.studies, and medical history.
TreatmentConservative methodsConservative methods
(rest, PT, pain management,(rest, PT, pain management,
bracing) or surgery (fus.bracing) or surgery (fus


Anterolisthsis and spondylolisthesis are two types of spinal conditions that can cause lower back pain and other symptoms. Anterolisthesis refers to the forward displacement of vertebrae in the spine, while spondylolisthesis refers to the backward displacement of vertebrae.

Overall, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for those with anterolisthesis or spondylolisthesis. If you are experiencing back pain or other symptoms, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and develop an effective treatment plan.