Spondylolisthesis Symptoms & Signs that it's Causing your Back Pain

Spondylolisthesis occurs when one of the bones in your vertebra slides forward or backward over the bone next to it. This typically occurs in the fifth or fourth vertebra (L4 or L5) in your lower back, making lumbar spondylolisthesis the most common. There are five different grades of spondylolisthesis, each depending on the degree that your vertebra has slipped forward or backward. Grade I being least severe, and grade V being the worst case of spondylolisthesis.

different grades of spondylolisthesis and how they effect your back pain

Spondylolisthesis is easily confused with the condition spondylolysis, which is no surprise because their names are very similar. Spondylolysis can be seen as the beginning of spondylolisthesis. This condition occurs when you have stress fractures of the pars interarticularis (the small bone that joins with the facet joint at the bottom of your vertebra), which can cause a separation of this bone. When this separation worsens or begins to slip, this is the starting stage of spondylolisthesis.

spondylolysis compared to spondylolisthesis and how the pars interarticularis controls spinal movement

These conditions are more common than you think; most instances of spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis are not accompanied by symptoms or the symptoms do not appear until much later in life. For some individuals, you may not even experience any symptoms at all.

What Are Common Signs & Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis?

The most common spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis symptom includes pain that stretches across the low back and can be compared to what you might experience with a strain to the muscles of this area. Other possible isthmic spondylolisthesis symptoms include spasms in the lower, middle, or upper back region or tightness of the hamstrings. This, in turn, can cause you to change your posture and/or gait. Other symptoms of spondylolisthesis can also include:
  • Numbness or weakness in your legs
  • Having trouble walking
  • Developing spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spaces of the spinal canal).
  • Poor posture, hunching, abnormal curves in your spine
  • Nerve compression or signs of sciatica - tingling, numbness or weakness in the legs, hip, foot or radiating pain in these areas.
  • Loss of control or problems with your bladder or bowel movements (severe cases)
If your condition is present in the upper, neck-area of the spine, you probably have cervical spondylolisthesis. Such symptoms might include pain in the neck, radiating pain through the shoulders and arms or stiffness in the neck. Cervical spondylolisthesis can also cause a numb or tingling sensation in the arms. Regardless of what is the cause of your spondylolisthesis, the symptoms can be quite serious and lifestyle altering. Thus, it is important to seek treatment from a medical professional if you suspect you have either spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis.

What Causes Spondylolisthesis & Spondylolysis?

In order to understand what might be causing your pain from spondylolisthesis, you have to determine which type of spondylolisthesis you have. There are five types of spondylolisthesis in which help to better understand the underlying causes of this condition:a list of the different types of spondylolisthesis and an explanation of how they differ
  • Isthmic: Result of stress fractures that weaken the vertebra of the spine so much that your bones in your spine tend to slip out of position.
  • Degenerative: This is the most common type of spondylolisthesis. It is a result of the natural aging process in which your joints degenerate or become weak, allowing your vertebrae to slip forward or backward.
  • Traumatic: Result of trauma or injury to your spine in which your joints allow your vertebra to slip forward or backward.
  • Pathologic: Result of a disease such as infection, tumor, cancer, etc.
  • Dysplastic (congenital): Refers to a malformation in the facet joints that is present from birth, this can compromise the function of the joints.
Besides these different types of spondylolisthesis, there are other factors that may put you at a greater risk for spondylolisthesis. If you participate in sports that exert a force on the low-back or require frequent hyperextension of the spine such as weightlifting, gymnastics, tennis or diving, to name a few, these take a toll on the lower back. Teenage growth spurts can also cause stress fractures and thus isthmic spondylolisthesis symptoms. In addition, if you’ve had repetitive trauma or injuries to your back, you are more likely to develop this condition. BraceAbility stocks a number of spondylolisthesis braces for the lumbar and thoracic spine that can be used to give the back a rest, added support in daily tasks or during physical activity, and even for postoperative use. Such braces can help give you pain relief and immobilize your spine in order to reduce further injury or future injury.

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