What are the Most Common Spondylolisthesis Symptoms?

Marjorie McAtee

Many patients with spondylolisthesis, which is a lower back problem, may not experience symptoms. The condition is often diagnosed incidentally, in the course of investigating other symptoms. When spondylolisthesis symptoms occur, they can be mild or severe and include lower back pain, muscle tightness and weakness, and even spinal deformities.

Spondylolisthesis often causes lower back pain.
Spondylolisthesis often causes lower back pain.

Spondylolisthesis occurs when one vertebra slips forward, overhanging the vertebra below it. The displaced vertebra can put pressure on surrounding nerves, causing pain and other symptoms. There are five types of spondylolisthesis. Causes of spondylolisthesis include congenital defects, stress injuries, fractures and degenerative conditions. Spondylolisthesis generally occurs in the lumbar spine.

Spondylolisthesis is often diagnosed incidentally.
Spondylolisthesis is often diagnosed incidentally.

Common symptoms of spondylolisthesis typically include lower back pain. The lower back may be painful to the touch. Pain and muscular tightness may extend into the buttocks, legs, and thighs. Depending on the amount of pressure placed on nerves, spondylolisthesis may cause unexplained weakness in the legs. Spondylolisthesis may cause changes in gait, typically a waddling movement when walking, a sway back, and a protruding lower abdomen.

Spondylolisthesis symptoms and pain generally improve somewhat when the spine is fully extended. Patients may find that their spondylolisthesis symptoms worsen when the spine is compressed or twisted. The severity of spondylolisthesis symptoms may not necessarily correspond to the severity of a patients condition or the degree to which the patient's vertebra has slipped.

Spondylolisthesis may cause visible spinal deformities. Generally, the hamstrings become abnormally tight before spinal deformity is apparent. Medical professionals believe that a displaced vertebra must slip more than 50 percent out of position before visible spinal deformities can occur. Spondylolisthesis may cause a dimple to appear on the lower back, corresponding with the location of the displaced vertebra.

Spondylolisthesis may cause muscle spasms surrounding the affected vertebra. Most patients with spondylolisthesis don't experience any loss of mobility or reduction of their range of motion. Spondylolisthesis symptoms can upon hyperextension of the lower spine. X-rays are often used to diagnose spondylolisthesi, but sometimes CT or CAT scans may be necessary to diagnose more complex cases of spondylolisthesis.

Spondylolisthesis is generally graded on a five-point scale, depending on how far forward the upper vertebra has slipped. A grade I case of spondylolisthesis applies when a vertebra has slipped forward less than 25 percent. As the severity of the slippage increases, the grade diagnosis progresses up the scale. Someone whose vertebra has slipped completely off the vertebra beneath it is diagnosed with a grade v case of spondylolisthesis.

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