A spinal condition that causes back or nerve pain.

Left part of K
Find out more about spondylolisthesis, a spinal condition that causes nerve pain or back pain.
Spondylolisthesis - Dr Alex Koefman, spinal surgeon Brisbane

Neurosurgeon Brisbane

Dr Alex Koefman about spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis key points

  • This is a spinal condition in which one of the vertebrae slips either forward or backwards on another spinal bone.
  • This causes back pain or nerve pain.
  • There are two main treatment options: physiotherapy to strengthen the muscles, or surgery where we screw the two bones together so they don’t slip and slide on each other anymore.

Spondylolisthesis Brisbane

What is it?

‘Spondy’ means spine; ‘listhesis’ means slipping. 

This is a condition in which one spinal bone slips either forward or backwards on another spinal bone.

It is one of the more common ways that wear and tear changes affect the spine. It most commonly occurs in the neck or back. It rarely occurs in the thoracic spine.

Spondylolisthesis symptoms

What are the symptoms?

We will concentrate on the lumbar spine as this is by far the most common part of the spine to be affected.

The two most common symptoms for spondylolisthesis are back pain and nerve pain. 

The back pain is purely mechanical. As you move around in normal life, the two slipped bones essentially slide round on eachother. This is not a big movement, usually only measured in millimetres, but that is enough to cause mechanical pain.
The nerve pain is due to the slipped bones jamming the nerves coming out of the spine at that level.

Dr Alex Koefman | Brain and Spinal Surgeon Brisbane
Dr Alex Koefman

Spinal surgeon Brisbane

Spondylolisthesis causes

What causes it? Did I do something to cause it?

The most common cause is wear and tear changes in the spine, specifically in the spinal disc.

The spinal disc is 80% water and over 1cm in height once you reach teenage years. With age, the disc loses water and so it collapses down in height, sometimes to less than 1mm. This often weakens the spinal disc and allows the two spinal bones it normally holds together to slip on each other.

Overall there are 5 causes of spondylolisthesis.

  1. Arthritis: It is very common for wear and tear to result in two bones slipping on each other.
  2. Congenital: This means you were born with it.
  3. Trauma: In rare cases, an accident can cause two bones to slip on each other.
  4. Cancer: Fortunately this is very rare.
  5. Surgery: Yes, sometimes spine surgery for a completely different issue can weaken the grip between two adjacent bones and so they start to slip and slide on each other. Fortunately, with the advent of keyhole surgery, this is becoming much less common. However, with more traditional spinal fusion the risk of this occurring is about 5-30% depending on the type of fusion.

A thorough assessment of you and your scans can usually work out which cause you have.

Spondylolisthesis treatment in Brisbane

How is it treated?

The first trick is to work out if the spondylolisthesis is actually giving you any symptoms. Most commonly it is silent and you can continue to live a normal life without restrictions. 

If it is causing either back pain or nerve pain, and this has been confirmed after a very thorough clinical and radiological examination, then there are two main options.

Both these options are about the same thing, strengthening the part of the spine that has slipped. This can either be done by physiotherapy to strengthen the muscles or by surgery to screw the two bones together so they don’t slip and slide on each other anymore.

Spondylolisthesis surgery in Brisbane

Do I need surgery?

Surgery can stop the two bones from slipping and sliding on each other which in turn helps treat spinal pain. The pain comes from the bad movement between two bones, or bone rubbing on bone, so by eliminating the movement by screwing the two bones together the movement is instantly stopped forever and the pain is treated as a result. 

Surgery can also treat nerve pain caused by spondylolisthesis. Once again, by screwing the bones together this repeated jamming of the nerve tends to stop and so the nerve pain improves. Furthermore, the nerve can also be squashed by a build-up or arthritis tissue. Surgery can very easily remove this thickened tissue and take the pressure off the nerves which is very effective at removing the nerve pain.

Whether or not you need surgery comes down to one factor: your quality of life. It is rarely a dangerous medical condition so it just comes down to how badly the symptoms are holding you back in life. 

Dr Alex Koefman | Brain and Spinal Surgeon Brisbane
Dr Alex Koefman

Spinal surgeon Brisbane


If you would like me to make this assessment with you, please feel free to contact my team to make an appointment. 

Spondylolisthesis specialist in Brisbane

What should I do now?

If you would like me to assess your symptoms then contact my team. We will arrange all the necessary scans for you in the meantime so that we can have a complete discussion when we meet.

Ready to make an appointment?

Alex consults at Queensland Neurosurgery & Spine Surgery (QNS).
Dr Alex Koefman

Ramsay Specialist Centre
Suite 325
Newdegate St
Greenslopes QLD 4120


(07) 3397 4185

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