Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis

In some cases the patient may be asymptomatic and only discover the spondylolisthesis by chance when having an x-ray conducted for an unrelated reason. Many cases involving children cause no, or few, symptoms. Other patients suffer extreme symptoms, involving persistent, severe neck pain, back and spine, with radiating pain down the legs and arms. Pain may be worsened when hyperextending (arching) the back, making some activities such as yoga or pilates potentially unsuitable for those with spondylolisthesis. In general, however, these activities would be excellent for maintaining back and neck health.

Some patients may experience neurological symptoms, such as intermittent claudication or vesicorectal disorder; in most cases these patients will require spine surgery to correct the slippage and compression on spinal structures. Pinched nerves in the cervical spine may lead to weakness and numbness in the arms and shoulders, along with paraesthesia. Pain in neck and head can occur, depending on the location of the slippage and which nerves are being impinged upon. Symptoms of spondylolisthesis may share commonalities with symptoms of bulging or herniated discs, spinal stenosis, and cervical arthritis, as well as the issues found with severe osteophyte growth in the spine. If the patient experiences numbness in the genital area, or loses bladder or bowel control then they should seek medical help immediately as they may be signs of cauda equina syndrome which is considered a medical emergency.


As there are numerous blood vessels in the cervical area, including the arteries and veins leading up to the head, it is possible that spondylolisthesis can cause compression of these blood vessels. This may occur upon movement, with patients experiencing light-headedness upon rotation or flexion of the neck and head. If this occurs it is essential to seek medical assistance immediately as it may lead to blackouts, falls, and accidents as circulation to the brain is impaired.

Physical signs of the slippage of the vertebrae can, in extreme cases, include deformity of the back and neck, with stiffness of the neck, pain on rotation, flexion, and extension, and an abnormal tilt to the posture. Those with spondylolisthesis of the lumbar area may experience tightness in their hamstrings, sciatic nerve pain, and numbness in the legs and buttocks; the latter is a sign of cauda equina syndrome and should be thoroughly investigated.

Last Updated: 10/04/2010