Gauging the severity of spondylolisthesis — exploring the Meyerding Grading System

If you’ve been diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, a condition in which one vertebra has slipped forward and past the vertebra below it, your physician may have mentioned the Meyerding grading system to describe the severity of your condition. Orthopedic surgeon Henry William Meyerding, who joined the Mayo Clinic in 1911, first developed the system. Over 100 years later, this system is still used to help define the degree of slippage as it relates to the rest of the spine.

Grade designations

Meyerding grade designations are as follows:

  • Grade I — classifies slippage between zero and 25 percent
  • Grade II — classifies slippage between 26 and 50 percent
  • Grade III — classifies slippage between 51 and 75 percent
  • Grade IV — classifies slippage between 76 and 99

Even though it is technically not a part of the Meyerding spondylolisthesis grading scale, some physicians use grade 5 to diagnose cases in which a vertebra has slipped completely off the vertebra below it. This condition is also known as spondyloptosis.

Understanding your diagnosis

Spondylolisthesis most often occurs in the lower back, because the lower back supports a large percentage of body weight and facilitates a great deal of movement. It is therefore highly susceptible to the effects of wear and tear. If a dislocated vertebra comes into contact with the spinal cord or a nerve root, the condition can cause localized lower back pain, as well as radiating pain, numbness, weakness and tingling throughout the legs.

The Meyerding scale is an essential reference tool to use when formulating a treatment plan to combat symptoms. If you are experiencing back stiffness and nerve compression symptoms, and have received a grade 1 or grade 2 spondylolisthesis diagnosis, you’ll likely find relief from a regimen of conservative treatments, such as physical therapy, pain medication and corticosteroid injections. While a diagnosis of grade 3 is sometimes treatable with conservative therapies, it — like a grade 4 or 5 spondylolisthesis diagnosis — may be followed by surgery to realign and permanently fuse the affected area of the spine.

Laser Spine Institute

At Laser Spine Institute, we offer certain spondylolisthesis patients the opportunity to avoid highly invasive open spine surgery and undergo a minimally invasive procedure to treat nerve compression caused by a displaced vertebra. Our procedures include both minimally invasive decompression and minimally invasive stabilization surgeries that are performed on an outpatient basis. These state-of-the-art procedures have already helped tens of thousands of patients find relief from neck and back pain. If you have been diagnosed with a grade 3 or above form of spondylolisthesis, contact us to learn more and see how you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.