Spondylolisthesis Surgery Tip

spondylolisthesis surgery

There are times when those who have spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis begin to think about surgery.

In the past, at the height of my pain I thought about surgery often, especially when I was unable to get myself out of bed during severe flare ups.  I am thankful that I was able to control my issues with the non-surgical approach but I understand that for some, surgery may be necessary.

The purpose of this post is not to discuss if surgery is right for you, but it is more of a tip for you if you do decide to cross the bridge of surgery.

Having any kind of surgery is a big deal.

An operation on your spine is a very big deal and you owe it to yourself to do the diligent work on finding someone right for you.

Unfortunately I have heard a few horror stories when it comes to surgeries. From doctors that do not communicate well, to little or no improvement, having a surgery to improve how you feel is no lock for success.

If you or someone you love is considering surgery to help with spondy pain I highly encourage you to see at least 3 different doctors before you take the big step.

Sometimes people go with the first opinion or recommendation they have without seeking out multiple opinions. Visiting multiple doctors for a big decision can be beneficial in several ways.

There is nothing wrong with seeking multiple opinions and in fact, doing so provides many advantages:
  1. You may find out some doctor’s recommend alternative treatments prior to surgery.
  2. You will learn more about yourself and your condition by listening to different doctors.
  3. You can compare who has the most experience and success.
  4. You may have the opportunity to speak to others in the waiting room who have had the same experiences.
  5. You will get a feel for which offices, employees and doctors provide you with the most comfortable experience.

You will never know unless you do your research and visit a few practices.

Remember, you are not bound to the doctor you visit. It is your right as a patient to get opinions, weigh options, and ultimately decide what you want to do.

So before you come to a big decision, seek multiple opinions to gather the information you need to make a choice that you feel comfortable and confident in.

Are you considering surgery?

Have you already had surgery for a spondylolisthesis?

I encourage you share your story below.  It will go a long way in helping others!

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Leave A Reply (22 comments so far)


  1. JR
    4 years ago

    I’ve been considering surgery for over a year now. Extension/flexion x-rays revealed that my grade 1 spondy is moving 2mm forward and 2mm backward as I move (4mm total). I’ve met with one neurosurgeon that says fusion surgery for stabilization is highly successful but not for degenerative disc disease. I’ve since met with three physical therapists and as much as I believe the Mackenzie method can help people with low back pain it has given me much grief. My level of pain seems to be steadily rising and is worse with inactivity (sitting or standing). However, the more stretching and exercising I do the worse the flare-ups! That’s why I’m considering surgery and working on getting a second opinion. My fear is that my spondy is not the source (or exclusive source) of my pain and then I have an irreversible fusion surgery. I’ve already had 3 PT’s say go get help elsewhere from a spine specialist so who’s going to help me if I have problems once I’m fused?! My spondy is L3-L4 and I do have some pain at this site mostly on the right side. The majority of my pain is below this area around L5, a nagging, nervy, achey, throbbing pain. Each day it moves around a little spreading further left or right, around the hips, back to the center, up a little, down a little, it’s very strange. I have a “transitional lumbosacral segment (L5)” in which I fear might have something to do with my chronic pain and another reason why I am reserved about doing surgery.

    Any tips on what I should do or try?

    What is your problem that you are considering surgery?


    • Spondy
      4 years ago

      Hi Justin,

      Thanks for commenting.

      To be clear I am not currently considering surgery because I have been able to manage and control my spondy related pain. But years ago, at the height of my pain I was experiencing a ton of painful days. I even had some days where I literally needed help out of bed and had to call off of work the pain was so bad. I simply could not walk. Back then I thought about surgery often. I would lay in bed thinking about how to make this pain go away. Fast forward to now and I am much better. I have been able to avoid these horrible flare ups and manage them if I do get one. This is all credit to what I have learned and applied.

      As far as your situation goes I think you are doing the right thing by seeking a second opinion. This may provide you with answers to many of your questions you have. And do not get down if you do not like the answer this specialist provides. And in my opinion it would be very helpful to seek one more opinion after that. I cannot tell you how many doctors I saw until I found someone I trusted and connected with.

      Did all three therapist operate in the same manner? Did they all use the Mackenzie method? This could very well be problematic for your condition and perhaps seeking a different source for therapy would help your situation. From my experience when a PT says “go get help elsewhere” it can often mean they are stumped or confused about the situation. Or simply they have not had the experience working with someone with your specific issues. This does not mean that therapy will not help in general, it just means therapy with these individuals is not helping. Have you had any experience working with a therapist who evaluates your entire body with an SFMA screen or some kind of functional evaluation? You point about fear from finding therapy help post surgery is a legit question and you need to have someone you can trust in.

      If you would like email me at info@spondyinfo.com and provide me with your location (city, state, zip) and perhaps I know of someone in your area that I could point you to. Hopefully this answer has helped and best of luck!


  2. emma
    4 years ago

    I sound like JR. Diagnosed a year ago, I got through the year very uncomfortably and am now in the midst of a 2 month long epic flare up where I have had had some of the worst pain of my life. Which is saying a lot, as I have lived my whole life with thoracic fusion and harrington rods after scoliosis surgery when I was 14. I know all too well the implications of surgery, and yet I’m considering it, based on the narrowing of my spinal canal and some profound nerve radiation in my legs. I can no longer sit or stand for any length of time. No one is telling me not to have surgery – oddly, as my osteopath of 15 years is just as anti-surgery as I am, and my physiotherapist is a gifted healing goddess.

    One thing I know for sure: surgery begats surgery. And I know it won’t make me pain free either – I think all you can expect is to swap one type pain for another (and call me mental but I would try another pain to replace this nervy hell).

    I have one last course of action to try: to get as fit as hell in the pool. I’ve always felt that pounding laps is my cure-all, and being told to do it by a surgeon as a means to delay surgery is a proper incentive. So… 2014 is the year of the body. Finally… at 44…


    • Spondy
      4 years ago

      Hi Emma,

      Thank you for posting your story. It sounds like you have been through a ton and I admire your attitude and willingness to keep fighting. It also sounds like you have a good team around you (osteopath and physiotherapist). Utilize them as much as you can and good luck with swimming. Stay in touch with your progress along the way!


  3. Lance
    4 years ago

    Has anyone been keeping an eye on these “minimally invasive” surgeries that I’m hearing about? I saw an advertisement for the “Laser Spine Institute” the other day…does anybody know anything about them?


    • Spondy
      4 years ago

      Hi Lance,

      Personally I have never had any experience with these surgical procedures and I have not met any spondy patients that have had them. I would have to look into them more, but I am not 100% sure they are for those with spondy’s. One thing I always explain to those with spondy’s is to try everything you can to improve your overall movement prior to having surgery. The reason for this is that if you do go forward with surgery and suffer from poor movement mechanics you are much more likely to continue experiencing pain after surgery due to the surgery correcting the site of the pain instead of the possible culprits. This is more so true for those with grades 1 and 2 spondy’s due to studies showing that a high percentage of these types of spondy’s have shown improvement with non-surgical procedures. However, every situation is unique and different and I would love to hear if anyone has had any experience or success from this type of surgery. Thanks for posting Lance!


  4. Brooke
    3 years ago

    I’ve been considering surgery for quite some time now. I was diagnosed 6 years ago and wore a brace which maintained my spondy. After a car accident last year, my spondy advanced to a grade 4. My mom had a similar back procedure done a few years back that debilitated her for a while, but she recovered fully and with much less pain than before. I’m still very young and have been told by multiple doctors that if I get surgery, I should do it before age 25 for the best results. It puts a lot of pressure on me as to what is right. I would like the pain to be gone, since some days it seems unbearable, but I’m not sure if the repercussions from the surgery is worth it. Do you have any advice on if the surgery would be helpful or hurtful to my state?


    • SpondyInfo
      3 years ago

      Hi Brooke. I am so sorry to hear about your accident and increased slippage of your spondy. The pain is very, very hard to deal with and as you know can be both a physical and mental battle. Most of my work Brooke comes from dealing with and researching grade 1 & 2 spondy’s. Those grades have been proved through studies to be manageable by non-surgical procedures. Once you get to higher grades such as 3 and 4 it really is a case-by-case basis. Everyone deals with pain differently. And when the slip enters these stages your best allies will be your doctors and, rehab specialists and loved ones.

      I tell those looking into surgery to make sure they exhaust ALL options first before moving forward. For those in your condition (grade 4) that would involve making sure you trust your doctor and are comfortable with their advice. I always encourage people to see at least a few doctors to get various opinions on the options and best route to take. As far as if the surgery will help your state, I unfortunately do not that. There are so many variable involved and I am not a doctor. Surgery is never guaranteed to be a success so there are some risks involved. But it is up to your doctor to explain the exact risks and for you decide if it is worth it to move forward. Anytime you have surgery on the spine or surrounding areas, the rehab process does take a while. If you do go through with surgery make sure you have a great team of rehab specialists in your corner to help you along the way. I hope this little bit of info I provided can help you Brooke. I wish you the best of luck with your decisions and above all….try to keep a positive attitude through the process. It may be hard at times, but there is always a light at the end of a dark tunnel.


  5. Kevin Wortman
    3 years ago

    Just visited a well known spine specialist this Feb named a “Top Doc 2014.” My second visit to a spine doc since my Spondy Grade II diagnosis 23 years ago and it’s been 17 years since my last spine visit. I was experiencing a flare up after 15 years of nearly pain free back management. Thought I should check it out just in case. My biggest fear was further slippage.

    The doc was unbelievably great!! Spoke to my wife and I for 30+ minutes in great detail with great news! After 23 years, I’m still a Grade II and my pain is from minor inflammation due to simple aging and some compensation; I’ll be 54 in April. What was even more amazing is what he explained to me from his analysis. I’ve realized again that the body is an incredible machine. He told me that my L5/SI Grade II spondy has fused itself and much more eloquently, efficiently and effectively than he could ever do with surgery. It’s a solid bone now; bone is living tissue that successfully fused itself in compensation/reaction to the break and slippage. He told me it can not slip any further and pain will only come from compensating stress on bones above the natural fusion and simple aging; not a big deal and completely manageable. He liked what he saw.

    I share this because my experience focused on rhythmic exercise, good nutrition and careful movement technique for the last 23 years; it was a lifestyle change. Throughout this “prescription” the body did it’s own surgery and much better than a skilled surgeon could ever accomplish and it did not cost me a penny or a lost day. The body’s mechanical and repair capability gives hope for spondies but, you need to learn as much as you can about your situation and be prepared to change, learn and adapt. There are alternatives to surgery. Give yourself a chance and create the opportunity for your body to react and heal. Seek the right type of professionals, as Justin recommends, and above all, stay positive and commit yourself to the right fitness, movement and nutrition goals.

    Sorry for the long reply but, I hope sharing my experience can perhaps help someone else or instill more hope for recovery. Best wishes……and keep moving…….


    • SpondyInfo
      3 years ago

      Hi Kevin. What a great story! It sounds like you found a great doctor and I continue to believe that finding that right doc is such an important step in the improvement process. Unfortunately it is a challenge to do so for many people. You are correct, the body is one amazing machine and I have to be honest, I have never heard of a case where the body has “fused” itself together like this. It really is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing your strategy over the years and I will be pointing many future readers to this comment. This information has the ability to provide so many people with hope and education that can make a big difference in how they manage this condition. Thanks again Kevin and I wish you continued success!


  6. mia
    2 years ago

    growing up, I always had incontinence issues. I was always peeing in my pants from laughing too hard with my friends. I always thought I just had a weak bladder. When I was 15 I fell snowboarding and had tremendous pain that shot to my groin when I laughed, caughed or raised my leg. Physical therapgy didn’t do as much as I’d hoped, so we decided to do surgery so that it wouldn’t keep progressing. I’m worried when I hear other people living with spondy without surgery that I shouldn’t have made that decision. It did help, but a year and a half ago I got rear ended. We did an mri and found out I have a lot of disc degeneration. I went to a chiro the past year which helped me a lot. hes very cautious with my back. my chiro figured out I also had some disc impingment in my neck. When my treatment plan was done, I kind of stopped going for check ups. for a few months I tried saving money and didnt go to see a massage Therapist. In the past few months I’ll notice myself leaking urine if I cough or sometimes bend down. I have been having pain in my coccyx which hurts to touch. I got x rays yesterday and found out i’ve developed scoliosis in the last year, and the little slots where our nerves shoot out of our spine is being squished in L3. sorry to give my whole story but I’m a little worried with the progression. I guess I’m writing this for inspiration or to know if anyone else has had similar symptoms?


    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      Hi Mia.

      Thanks for sharing your story. Incontinence is a side effect of more severe cases of spondy’s. It also may be a side effect of some other spinal issue. I would encourage you to ask your doctor about this. Make sure you understand why this is happening and to ask your doctor if there is anything you can do to improve it. Hopefully others who read this site with similar issues can provide some feedback as well. Thanks again for posting!


  7. Dianne
    2 years ago

    I had a two level fusion with rods, 4 baskets – for the graft from my iliac crest- and six screws 2.5 years ago. It is true that initially you swap one pain for another, but I looked at it as healing pain. If you can manage your spondys without surgery that is fine. With grade one this seems sensible but when you get to level 2 or three like I was it became a necessity rather than elective. My slips were 10 and 20 mm and I needed a walking stick and a zimmer frame and then a wheelchair. Rehabilitation is slow going, but at least I am not in pain all the time, just niggles and aches at times. I can walk almost 5 km in one go and even get down with my kneeler to garden for an hour or so. I have had to relearn the best way to handle every day things, like reaching up high to get recipe books down etc, and standing for over an hour in the kitchen my back muscles start to say that is enough! You need to listen to what your body is saying to you and don’t ignore otherwise it will just teach you another painful lesson. But it is the muscles now not the spine. Different pain and manageable. I most have no pain medication at all. I sleep on a half sheet of satin that I made, folded in half with slippery side inside and this helps me turn over at night, less drag on the back. I also always am mindful of how something I do will affect my back and just be aware. I do not run, jump etc as jarring just may help any further degeneration above the fusion slip above the fusion. I am thankful to my surgeon and for my fusion as my quality of life before the op. was just awful and I was forever in pain. No medications helped even the ones that can be addictive.!


    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      Thanks so much for sharing Dianne!


  8. Julie
    1 year ago

    Hello,

    I do agree that “shopping around” is a great tip for surgery. I’m currently debating myself my options. I am a stable Spondy Grade 3 and was diagnosed in my early teens (am now 31.). I’ve always live fine with my spondy, and found my pain to radically lower since I’ve lost a great amount of weight.. but, lately in result of the spondy and my previous weight I have some nerve issues which is causing discomfort; for example; I can not lie flat on my back or stomach for more than 2-3minutes before my back “locks”.

    I’m not really looking for the fusion surgery (well.. maybe?), but did read a lot of the surgery to free up nerves. Do you have any recommendations for information? My biggest worry here is they are not possible desperately..

    On a waiting list to see second surgeon for another opinion also! 🙂

    Keep up the great work on this site, always interesting to read up on people who have the same issue!


    • SpondyInfo
      1 year ago

      Hi Julie. Thanks for posting your questions. To be honest, I do not have a ton of information or sources when it comes to actually surgery procedures. Most of my studying has been geared towards non-surgical methods. This has been due to both my personal situation and the situations that I encountered the most working as a full time strength coach. As far as where to find information I would recommend speaking directly with a few doctors. I always tell people – if possible – to discuss your options with 1.) a surgeon and 2.) search for a doctor who leans more towards non-surgical methods. This will give you a good idea of your options and if surgery is a candidate for you. For example. When I was at the height of my pain I had one doctor tell me surgery was an option for me and up to me if I wanted to proceed forward. I then visited a another doctor who stated I did not need surgery and I could improve without it. Google would be your best friend in this search. Also, do not automatically assume the nerve pain is spondy related. I wrote a blog article discussing this a while back….please make sure you give it a read:http://spondyinfo.com/your-back-pain-may-not-be-caused-by-your-spondy/

      The worst thing that could happen would be to assume this pain is spondy pain and have surgery only to find out the pain was caused by something else (I have heard of this happening). Discuss your pain with your doctor and get a firm understanding of where the pain is originating from and find out IF the surgery will address this pain.

      I hope this helps and best of luck!


  9. elias
    1 year ago

    I was considering having surgery for my spondy. I went to 7 neurologists, the more the better; they all wanted to practice surgery on me, different procedures each and 3 of them wanted to perform a fusion with titanium nails, until the 7th dr told me i did not need surgery because my spondy was grade 2 and could be improved with several exercises. After one year of these exercises and others i discovered by myself, i felt great and go to the gym to do my exercises, plus very gentle weight lifting and then go swimming. See and compare many doctors is the best advice. Thanks Justin!


    • SpondyInfo
      1 year ago

      Thanks Elias. Great comment and thanks for sharing! I am sure this type of post will be encouragement for others who have experienced fear and frustration when confronted with the option(s) of surgery. It really is amazing that so many doctors can have so many opinions on this topic. It goes to show why so many spondy patients get confused and frustrated! You can never go wrong with getting multiple opinions. Congrats on the persistence and best of luck improving even more!


  10. Greg
    1 year ago

    To answer Lance’s question about Laser Spine Institute.

    I have L4-5 disc that is only half as thick as it should be.and L5-S1 disc is non existent due to degeration (bone on bone) but am very fortunate that I don’t have any pain down my legs.

    Back in April I contacted Laser Spine Institute through their website, I was contacted by Chad who has been assigned to my case. The Drs reviewed my MRI and said I am a candidate for surgery. After much discussion with with my wife and also Chad. I told them I’d need a little time to think about it, after a month Chad send a list of former patients (with permission) thru email. The ones I’ve contacted have not gotten back to me yet. Since then I’ve asked for detail on the information on the surgery, still waiting on reply.
    One issue I have is they only have 7 locations, the closest 3 are St Louis, Cincinnati, and Tampa, all 485-550 miles from home, I live in Birmingham, Alabama. I would need to stay after the survey days and would be gone a full week (driving). So there would be added expense of the lodging, food, ect…….
    For now I’m planning on starting therapy on Monday of this week. I hope this sheds some light for you.


    • SpondyInfo
      1 year ago

      Thanks for sharing Greg!


  11. Crystal
    1 year ago

    Hello,
    I have grade I spondy that is unstable at L4/5. I also have foraminal stenosis bilateral and severe arthritis of the L4/5 facet joints. My condition prevents me from standing , walking, or sitting for extended periods of time. I also have severe stenosis of cervical C 5/6. I’ve been in PT for 9 months, I do Pilates 2-3 times a week, acupuncture 2x months, massage 2x months, and take gabapentin 3x daily, soma a couple times a week, and Advil/Aleve, etc. Nothing has helped so I have just scheduled surgery to have an interspinous fusion with the Benelix device. The doctor will also perform decompression to clear out all the bone spurs pushing on the nerve. This is an outpatient procedure minimally invasive as an alternative to fusion. Once my lower body is stable, we hope it will resolve some of my neck issues.
    I should add that I was extremely fit prior to pain coming on about a year ago. I weight lifted, did Yoga, cardio, kickboxing, and golf working out about 3-4 times a week. I also sit at a desk all day and got a new sit/stand desk 8 months ago with no relief. I’m throwing in the towel now and hope surgery helps. I just turned 49!


    • SpondyInfo
      1 year ago

      Hi Crystal. Thanks for sharing your story. Don’t consider it throwing in the towel, it sounds like you have taken every step you could possibly take to help address your pain. Sometimes structural issues are present that are not correctable or improvable through non-surgical methods. This is just the way it is. Sometimes surgery is the best option. It is not giving up. Instead think of it as if you have done all you can and now you are ready to take the next step and turn to surgery. I hope everything goes well for you, please keep the community informed of your journey!

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