Spondylolisthesis Neck Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment Options


Spondylolisthesis neck is somewhat rare and can be difficult to diagnose, as this condition can lead to chronic pain in the neck and throughout the upper body, similar to those symptoms commonly associated with a variety of degenerative spine conditions.

This condition occurs when one vertebra in the cervical spine becomes misaligned in relation to its adjacent vertebrae.

Cervical spondylolisthesis can develop as a result of a congenital defect or natural spine degeneration, but more often than not it is a direct result of an injury to the neck.

Treatment options for this condition are numerous depending on the specific cause of the condition and the extent of the patient’s symptoms.

Spondylolisthesis neck

The Causes of Spondylolisthesis Neck

Generally speaking, spondylolisthesis can be caused by three different ways,

  • from injury,
  • degeneration,
  • or defect.

In individuals who have not yet reached middle age, the most common form of spondylolisthesis is from injury- either traumatic or as a result of repetitive mechanical movements that strain the spine.

Over time, a stress fracture can develop in the vertebral body – in an area of the spine called the pars interarticularis where the intervertebral disc meets the vertebra – which can cause the affected vertebra to slide out of position.


Spondylolisthesis neck In Elderly

In patients 50 or older, spondylolisthesis is normally more closely tied to the natural deterioration of the spinal column that comes from years of wear and tear.

As we grow older the intervertebral discs weaken and can herniate, the vertebral facet joints can become arthritic, muscles and ligaments can weaken, and other degenerative changes can take place, all of which can lead to the onset of spondylolisthesis.

Additionally, spinal deformity and vertebral misalignment can also be traced to a congenital defect that develops in utero and leads to back pain and other symptoms in adolescence. This is called dysplastic spondylolisthesis.

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In the cervical spine, the onset of spondylolisthesis is normally a result of injury or spinal defect, while degenerative spondylolisthesis is more common in the lumbar spine where the burden of supporting the majority of the body’s weight and the flexibility of the lower back takes its toll over time.


It should also be understood that there are varying degrees of spondylolisthesis Neck.

The severity of the vertebral misalignment is described in grades, where:

  • Grade I (0-25 percent slippage) is the mildest form of spondylolisthesis
  • Grade V (100 percent slippage) is the most severe.

Additionally, spondylolisthesis is not necessarily symptomatic.

In cases of low-grade spondylolisthesis, the patient may not know they have a problem or only experience slight discomfort.

However, when spondylolisthesis advances to the point that the misalignment of a vertebra interferes with the regular function of a nearby spinal nerve, the body may respond with a variety of symptoms ranging in severity and type depending on which nerve is affected.


Spondylolisthesis Neck Symptoms

Among the symptoms that may be caused by cervical spondylolisthesis are:

  • Local pain
  • Neck stiffness or soreness
  • Headaches
  • Numbness or tingling in the shoulders, arms, hands, or fingers
  • Pain that radiates or travels along a nerve
  • Muscle weakness
  • Diminished reflexes
  • The feeling of heat or a sensation of pins-and-needles

Diagnosing Cervical Spondylolisthesis

One of the difficulties of diagnosing spondylolisthesis neck is that many of the symptoms commonly associated with the condition can also be explained by herniated discs, spinal stenosis, facet disease, muscle strain, ligament sprain, and a variety of other conditions and injuries.

This is why a doctor must always be the one to diagnose the source of an individual’s pain.

Failure to identify the true cause of an individual’s symptoms can lead to a treatment plan that may be ineffective or even worsen the patient’s symptoms.

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In order to accurately diagnose spondylolisthesis,

1- A thorough review of the patient’s medical history is first required.

During this question-and-answer session, the doctor will ask his or her patient a series of questions about their lifestyle to try and determine the origin of their symptoms.

  • In some instances, a particular event, such as a car accident or sudden fall, may be the obvious source of the patient’s neck pain;
  • in other cases, the cause may be less readily apparent, which makes the medical history review all the more essential.
  • It is extremely important for the patient to be as thorough in their answers as possible during this review as even a seemingly small detail may help the doctor determine the cause of the patient’s pain.


2- Additionally, the doctor may ask the patient about their family’s medical history,

as cervical spondylolisthesis often can be traced to genetic predisposition.

  • Participation in high impact sports, poor posture, alcohol abuse or tobacco use, and having a career that requires frequent bending, twisting, or lifting may all also be factors in the onset of the patient’s symptoms and will be factored into the doctor’s diagnosis.


3- Next, the patient can expect the doctor to conduct a thorough physical examination.

The goal of this exam is to test the range of motion, locate the origin of the patient’s pain, test neurological response (reflexes, among others), and palpate the area surrounding the neck.

This process may be somewhat uncomfortable for the patient, but it will provide the doctor with further details that are required for making an accurate diagnosis.


4- Finally, if cervical spondylolisthesis is thought to be for the cause of the patient’s discomfort, the use of medical imaging, such as an X-ray or MRI,

    • is almost always recommended to confirm the diagnosis, pinpoint the location of the misalignment, and ensure that another underlying issue isn’t to blame for the patient’s symptoms.
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Treatment Options For Spondylolisthesis Neck 

Creating a treatment plan for cervical spondylolisthesis depends largely on the cause and severity of the condition.

  • In the case of low-grade spondylolisthesis where spinal stability isn’t at risk, a series of nonsurgical, conservative treatments may be recommended to combat the patient’s symptoms and strengthen the neck.
  • Finding the right combination of nonsurgical techniques is usually the product of trial-and-error and can take several weeks or months before the patient’s symptoms begin to abate.
  • Some of the more commonly recommended conservative treatments include the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the application of heat or ice, physical therapy, gentle stretching, and vertebral manipulation (chiropractic therapy).

Surgical Treatment

Occasionally, when cervical spondylolisthesis is causing the patient significant discomfort, the vertebra is severely damaged, and/or the spinal column is at risk of becoming unstable, more advanced treatment may be required.

Spinal surgery is usually considered the treatment of last resort, but for a select segment of the population, it may be the only real chance for meaningful pain relief.

Spinal fusion is an extremely common form of spinal surgery, during which the intervertebral disc is removed and replaced with a bone graft.

The affected vertebrae are stabilized with surgical rods and over time, the bone fuses together, permanently immobilizing the region.

This operation is highly invasive and can take months of rehabilitation for the patient to regain full strength, although it can be highly effective for individuals with severe vertebral misalignment.


If you believe that you may suffer from spondylolisthesis in the neck, visit your doctor immediately for a complete examination and learn more about all of your treatment options.

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