Looking Back At My Spondylolisthesis Rehab Experiences

I was diagnosed with my grade 1 spondylolisthesis over 18 years ago. During this time I have come across several rehab attempts, multiple doctor visits, and more painful nights than I care to count.

As many of you already know through education, trial and error, perseverance and hard work I have been able to finally move and feel better. And now that I have found an approach that works for me, I started thinking about all of my rehab experiences in the past and how far they were from helping me.

In fact, many of them hurt me more than they helped me.

I wanted to share these experiences with you to show that all attempts at rehab are not successful.

Also, this is not a post to bash, rip on or criticize those who tried to help me. The goal of this post is to show you that you might run across several rehab experiences that do not work for you.  And although you might experience five failed rehab attempts all that it takes is one that works for you to have a completely new look on life.

Most of my descriptions below happened years ago when rehab was very different. There was little to no individualization of programs, limited scientific studies to fall back on and less knowledge on spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis by the medical community.

With that being said I clearly remember one of my first rehab experiences.  It was after several different visits to doctors before an MRI confirmed my grade 1 spondylolisthesis (I still have my original diagnosis papers and MRI to this day).

I was in love with sports at the time and being limited by a stupid back injury was depressing at such a young age. I was determined to do whatever it took to get better.

I will never forget it, on my first therapy visit I was strapped into a machine that isolated my back and I performed extension movements. The goal was to “strengthen my back”.  At the time I thought it was a great idea. But the next day I could hardly walk the pain was so bad.

Instead of focusing on my personal movement issues, muscular weaknesses and imbalances I was forced to do weighted exercises that placed more stress on my back!  After a few more visits and extreme pain I was through with rehab at this facility and was again, faced with confusion and frustration.

confused about spondylolisthesis

Not knowing where to go I gave the local chiropractor a try.

I was strapped into a device, tipped at an angle and cracked in numerous positions. Sometimes I left feeling better, but most of the time I left feeling stiff and tight. The next day I always felt the same or worse.

I was now 0-2 in my rehab attempts.

After another doctor visit I was again entered into physical therapy. This time I was given numerous back stretches and exercises to be performed on my own. Some of them felt pretty good, others not so much.  I really had no idea if I was performing the exercises correctly. The little stick figures and descriptions on my take home program made little sense. But I kept performing them.

I do admit, I found the most relief out of this experience, but only days after completing therapy I was back to pain and discomfort.

I was now 0-3.

Not long after that I tried various back braces recommended by a therapist.  Again, I found no relief.

I was now 0-4 and very down and frustrated.

I was then prescribed a powerful anti inflammatory medicine that gave me the most relief I had found.

The problem was as soon as the medicine wore off, I was back to pain.

I hated taking tons of medications, but they were the only thing that helped me. Although they gave me some brief relief meds were not the long-term answer.

In my opinion this was 0-5.

To get better I had to learn more about my body and how this condition has affected it.

It was a few years later that I got into the field of exercise science, learned about my body and my condition and met up with a few brilliant minds that showed me the light. I received some great therapy advice, found exercises and stretches that improved my movement and how I felt.

I also found a chiropractor that shared a similar philosophy and was very helpful in my recovery.

But my success did not come until AFTER multiple failures.

I am sure many of you have experienced such failures and as you can see you are not the only one. I encourage you to not give up. Keep learning more about your body and your condition. The more you learn the better chance you have at moving and feeling better. It only takes one rehab experience to help you feel better.

I would love to hear your story(s) about failed rehab experiences and things that did and did not work. I encourage you to comment below. Sharing your story can go a long way in helping others as well.

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Leave A Reply (6 comments so far)

  1. Cindy Jackson
    2 years ago

    Well I developed spondy I think when I blew out l5/after receiving no medical care. I still see the docs in my head shrugging shoulders and asking what do you want me to do? I have had lumbar laminectomy now and in worse pain and no endurance. Exercises made it worse and walking was a no go also. I continue to search for answers but doctors won’t tell me spondy is pain source. Lol. Been here too many times but numb foot and burning leg tell different story. One thing that has given me relief is chiropractor. She would pop so joint that was very pronounced with a small metal device. Instantly better just didn’t last. Something pushes all that out of place I think. MRI show swelling but can’t see because hardware in the way. Lol

    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      Hi Cindy. I understand your frustration. Too many times Docs just do not have the answers. Your chiro story did ring a little bell. If you feel like something “pushes all that out of place” I would STRONGLY encourage you to seek out a board certified physical therapist to administer a full body movement screen on you. I had a similar issue after a visited a chiro and the combination of their work and my exercise, stretching and movement exercise helped me to improve upon the movement issues I was having. Muscular imbalances and weaknesses were basically forcing my body to compenstate and as the chiro put it…”get things out of whack”. I hope this helps!

      Start with this article for more info:https://spondyinfo.com/how-poor-movement-can-affect-your-spondy-and-how-to-fix-it/

  2. Colleen
    2 years ago

    So I have an unstable grade III spondy of 18 mm. I can walk and sit with very little pain, but standing and laying down are awful!!! I can’t sleep! I have had numerous rehab attempts over the years, but now that it has become unstable, I am headed for surgery in a few weeks. Any advice for pain control- without drugs until then? Flexion feels the best, and I sleep with my legs on a wedge- but am only comfortable for a few minutes at a time.

    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      Hi Colleen. I wrote an article on ways to help with inflammation. I understand your reluctance to avoid drugs as I am not a big fan either and I have limited my use of them to only the most severe flare ups. I list a few other options that have helped me over the years as well. I hope you find it useful and best of luck with surgery!


  3. Kathy
    6 months ago

    I agree with not stopping until finding someone (and something) that works for you. My spondy is a result of broken Pars bones, and my first PT for it (which I spent a long time researching having had other PT in the past) was OK. She listened to me when I said what hurt and what didn’t, she increased the work when I told her when some became easy, and she even accommodated my bad knees. She also made me work through the exercises before sending me home with them.
    I tried another PT but she didn’t listen to me, and told me, basically, “no pain, no gain.” I stopped seeing her after that!
    But it wasn’t until I moved to a bigger area (I had been in a semi-rural place and moved to a suburb of a city) and had to start my search again that my back actually FELT better. Within a week of seeing a new PT I no longer had the ever-constant achy pain that I think is associated with the disc degeneration. Honestly, it was like night and day. I was just delighted — if I could have jumped up and down I would have. Living constantly in pain made me irritable, cranky, angry, and depressed. If I ever find myself back there again I would bite the bullet and get the spine fusion.
    To others who are in pain — you are not alone. It sucks, I wish it would go away for you too, even for a little bit. But keep going to therapists until you find one that listens to you and can help you (if possible).

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