Spondylolisthesis and Other Causes of Back Pain

Other medical conditions that can affect the spine and lead to back pain include ankylosing spondylitis, spondylolysis, spondylolisthesis and vertebral osteomyelitis.

Ankylosing spondylitis

This condition is a chronic inflammation of the facet joints and the joints located between the back wall of the pelvis and the hip (the sacroiliac joints). Inflammation may also involve locations where ligaments and tendons attach to bone. Ankylosing spondylitis can be a cause of back pain, and ultimately the vertebrae may become fused together, resulting in rigidity and a stooped posture.


Spondylolysis is a defect and weakness in a portion of the spine, the pars interarticularis, a small segment of bone joining the facet joints in the back of the spine. The condition is basically a stress fracture in the pars interarticularis and is either congenital (present at birth) or may be caused later in life by trauma.


Spondylolisthesis, in which one of the vertebrae slips forward onto an adjacent vertebra, causes a gradual deformity of the lower spine and narrowing of the vertebral canal. It may develop in people with spondylolysis, can be congenital, or may develop later in life because of disk degeneration associated with abnormal facet joints.

Vertebral osteomyelitis

A serious and increasingly common bacterial infection of the spine, vertebral osteomyelitis causes pain in the neck or back and may be accompanied by fever. It is often associated with autoimmune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes.


In rare instances, back pain is caused by cancer in the spine. Malignant tumors of the spine account for far less than 1 percent of all cases of back pain and occur more frequently in older people. Cancer can originate in the vertebrae, as in the case of multiple myeloma (cancer cells that move from the bone marrow to the bones at numerous sites). It can also spread to the spine from other sites, most often from the breast, prostate, lung, kidney or thyroid gland.

Other causes

Not all back pain is caused by problems with the spine or back muscles. In some cases, pain originates in the abdominal organs and radiates to the back. Conditions such as pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), peptic ulcers (lesions in the stomach or small intestine) or an abdominal aortic aneurysm (a ballooning of the wall of the body’s largest artery, which carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body) also may cause back pain.

Back pain may also originate from gallstones, kidney stones, kidney infections and endometriosis (a growth of the tissue lining a woman’s uterus in places other than the uterus). Last, but certainly not least, emotional stress may aggravate back pain.

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HealthAfter50 was published by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, providing up-to-date, evidence-based research and expert advice on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of health conditions affecting adults in middle age and beyond. It was previously part of Remedy Health Media's network of digital and print publications, which also include HealthCentral; HIV/AIDS resources The Body and The Body Pro; the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter; and the Berkeley Wellness website. All content from HA50 merged into Healthcentral.com in 2018.