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1. During a fifteen-year period a clinical, radiological and in some cases a surgical study has been made of 319 patients suffering from spondylolisthesis–that is, forward slipping of one lumbar vertebra on another or forward sagging of the whole lumbar spine in relation to the sacrum.

2. The five etiological factors are described, and the cases are assigned to five groups according to the factor responsible for the slip. In every case slipping is permitted by a lesion of the apparatus which normally resists the forward thrust of the lower lumbar spine–that is, the hook of the neural arch composed of the pedicle, the pars interarticularis and the inferior articular facet engaging caudally over the superior articular facet of the vertebra below.

3. In Group I (congenital spondylolisthesis–sixty-six cases) the lesion is a congenital defect of the facets. In Group II (spondylolytic spondylolisthesis–164 cases) the lesion occurs in the region of the pars interarticularis and is either an elongation of the bone or a break in continuity. There are reasons for thinking that the lesion is caused by stress over a long period rather than by acute injury or by a congenital anomaly of ossification. In Group IV (degenerative spondylolisthesis–eighty cases) the lesion of the facets is degenerative. There are no good grounds for thinking that an abnormality of the angle between the facets and the pedicles is the primary lesion behind the degenerative change.

4. Group III and V comprise few cases. In the former (traumatic spondylolisthesis–three cases) the lesion–a fracture of the neural arch–is caused by a single severe injury. In Group V (pathological spondylolisthesis–six cases) the slipping is caused by weakness of bone from various causes.

5. A full description is given of the etiological and biomechanical features of each group. A special investigation has been made into the etiological factors in degenerative spondylolisthesis.

6. The incidence of involvement of nerve tissues is highest in degenerative spondylolisthesis; the most severe degrees of slip are found in congenital spondylolisthesis.

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