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young mom with Spondylolisthesis

Started by jenann on 03/03/2011 6:22pm

It's been an interesting 15 year with this condition which I finally have a diagnosis.
15 years ago, I was hostessing in college when I started have the lower back pain. Walk-in clinic diagnosed as "bones that were supposed to fuse in childhood and didn't." They sent me to therapy which (being a college student) did not keep up with.
Over the next 15 years, it's "flared up" here and there for maybe a few days at a time. Two pregnancies with just "normal" back pains and 14 years as a Kindergarten teacher...now I've seen this rage its ugly head. Christmas Eve was the most recent flare up and still hasn't resolved. After a trip to my primary care and then finally to an ortho. doctor, I finally found a correct diagnosis. Xrays showed grade 2 spond. So I've done 4 weeks of physical therapy, anti-anflammatories and muscle relaxers. Last week, I received my first epidural steroid shot. Some relief but I still can't resume regular activities.
So now I'm 33 with two young boys, full-time Kindergarten teacher where I refuse to sit and take it easy, and just a completely busy life. I do not like to be "slowed down"--hence the nagging back pain. I'm not willing to compromise any of these and just want to go back to my normal activity level.
Here's my recent MRI:
"Bilateral spondylolysis with grade 1 anterior listhesis at L5-L1 with
associated disc bulge and mild bilateral foraminal stenosis"
Question 1: why is there "grade 2" on the xrays and grade 1 on the MRI? Xrays were taken in flexion and extension and MRI was static. Is that the reason? They were also take 4 weeks apart with physical therapy in between. Did it "get better?"
Question 2: How "bad" is the damage? Of course the ortho dr. already gave my info on spinal fusion but I know they are trigger happy. I want to walk in informed but realistic. I'm a baby about pain-more just that I want to feel 100% fine and go about life so the "fix" surgery seems like a good idea.
Question 3: I know I won't keep up with daily exercises or taking it easy. Will this problem keep getting worse?
I know many basically try to find a way to live with their back problems. That's not for me. I absolutely don't want to be "cautious" and live a life thinking "should I do this? will it hurt my back?"
I know this is lengthy but I'm hoping to find some people with similar issues who can shed a non-doctor opinion all of this.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post!

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15 Responses


I also forgot to mention my very unique "timeline"
Surgery would only be possible this June.
Since I'm a teacher (and I would want to save some sick days for a 3rd baby), this is the only time. It also allows me to have some extra help with my kids since some of my colleagues are young and can babysit.
This June or possibly wait 2-3 years. Silly but next summer, we hope to try for a 3rd child (close enough in age to our other two) The doctor is aware of us trying for a 3rd and noted how it would a few years after the pregnancy that he would attempt surgery (no picking up baby). My youngest is almost 3 and doesn't need to be carried.
So it's now or (in a way) never.


hi jenann,
i'm so sorry to hear of your problem. you are much too young to be burdened with it. i am old enuf to almost be your mother, (72) and just found out a month ago that I have degenerative spondylolisthesis. I've been active all my life, have 5 grown kids and did all the lifting, carrying, etc that is required. i can understand your desire to be totally healthy again, but have a concern about surgery of any kind. i hope you can find some answers.

i think the mri does not show the extent of spondylolisthesis as you are lying down for this procedure. my doc explained that only with the flexion/extension xrays could he see what was happening when i bend forwards or back...makes sense. he says my disk slips out 7 mm on flexion and is slipped out 2-3 mm even when i am standing. ugh. i have had pain in my right calf for nearly a year and finally got this diagnosis. i am hoping that if i learn to move correctly and not further stress my spine, the calf pain will go away, but so far it hasn't and i am discouraged.

best of luck to you....let me know what you learn.


Thanks< Kris,
It is quite overwhelming when I think I will most likely spend the next 50 years talking about my back. That's part of my lien toward surgery; the doctor seems very confident that it will "fix" the problem, not just help alleviate the pain. If I am going to have surgery, he suggested "sooner rather than later" as the healing would be much more profound and successful. Either with the surgery or without, I'm sure I'll need to constantly watch how I move, lift and carry.
Thanks for all your support and thanks for the MRI comment. It is tricky to figure out all that language; I should not have checked my online healthsystem, that's where the MRI result are posted but there's no translation into "normal" language. I do live in a MAJOR metro area and have THE best back doctor in the north/northwest part of the city. All he does is backs! So I'm confident in his skills.
AND wow, 5 kids! Kudos to you! I know a lot of people would find it silly to have a 3rd with back problems, but they are my life!


Having a great doc in whom you have a lot of confidence is crucial, whether it be for your back or your ob! I live near San Francisco, so I assume you are in the Seattle or Portland area. Even so, it might be wise to get a second opinion before moving forward. I did get a second opinion and I think he was the one who got the diagnosis correct. I have no idea of what is available in your area, but have heard that UCSF is the place to go where I live.

It is a big deal that can/will have an effect on the rest of your life, so checking your options out thoroly would be wise, IMO. I don't think a good doctor would be offended if you got a second opinion.

Best wishes....and yes, i am lucky to have my kids! Now I have 10 grandkids too!


I also think the MRI shows Grade 1 because its lying down and x-rays are not they give a clearer pic of things I guess. Mine was the same MRI said grade 1 and X-rays Grade 3. Of course there was a long time betwwen mine and I had a spinal fusion from L4-S1 about 6 weeks ago. I would be happy to answer any questions if I can for you. I am 38 years old and was unable to walk/stand for more than a few min min, my back didn't really start hurting till a few months before surgery. However the pain in my legs was excruciating. For me the surgery gave me my life back, I can now stand and walk without pain. Not being able to bend forward or pick things up is frustrating at times mostly because I feel ok :o) Good Luck with whatever you decide..


MY WIFE had 2 back surgeries this past summer is doing GREAT! NO PAIN

X-lif procedure & fusion 2 rods 18 screws DR URIBE Tampa General HOSPITAL Tampa fl

SEnd me E-mail with phone # thanks



I actually live in a Chicago suburb, close to top-notch hospitals and doctors. I have a doctor's appt. Wednesday so we'll see what he has to say. I'll look pretty ridiculous bringing in my typed list of questions I want to make sure I fully understand.
Thanks for all the advice


Your idea to bring a list of questions is excellent. If the doctor thinks it is foolish, you should consider finding another doctor! Glad you are close to good medical resources. I was born in Chicago and moved with my family to CA when I was 17.


Well, we're headed for surgery in June. After looking at the MRI (literally, he took me into his office to show me the MRI and explain what I was looking at), we pretty much all agree that associated problems and symptoms are just going to get worse. The disc is completely degenerated and the disc is encroaching upon the spinal nerve root. Then I'd also have the radiating pain. He is a really great doctor, I've never had any doctor take so much time explaining EVERYTHING. He even contacted another patient who is a mom to give me permission to call her (which I just received her cell number.) He will graph bone from the spinal site (and not from pelvis) and also uses some bone growth "magic serum" (I just can't remember what he called it.) He even asked me to make another appointment so my husband could be there and "here the details of the surgery and recovery" right from the doctor. So now I just have about 3 months to make it through. I'm back on the antinflammatory and muscle relaxers. Still VERY uncomfortable in the evenings. Any advice?


Hi Jenann,
I don't have any advice as I have not faced your situation nor had surgery. I can only wish you well and say that I might well have made the same decision for surgery if I had had your problems when I was as young as you are. Sounds like you have a lot of confidence in your doctor and that is vital. It is great that he gave you a name and number of a former patient. It speaks well for his integrity and his skill.
I wish you well and hope you can get thru to June without too much pain and disability.

I am doing what my doctor recommended, i.e. not bending forward much and not lifting heavy things. I have been on a low dose of prednisone for four years now due to an autoimmune disease called polymyalgia rheumatica, so that may be helping my back too! I have had almost no leg pain this last week, which I think means I am doing pretty well. I have taught my German Shepherd dog to pick up things that I drop. She is sooo smart and it has been fun to work with her on this project. She now picks up such things as sox, shoes, the plastic lid of my coffeemaker, a fork and has even learned to pull items out of my front loading dryer for me! I would rather not have spondylolisthesis, but given the circumstances, and the fact that I am 72, it is not the worst thing to have.

Anyway, Jenann....you are very young and very motivated. I'm sure your surgery and recovery will go very well. I wish you every blessing.


Your story sounds similiar to mine, but I think my listhesis occured as part of an injury when I was about 34 and I'm 47 now. I have been through three sessions of PT in the past 1.5 years, trying to resolve my back issues and have lost a lot of my social, family and financial life. I can barely walk, stand or sit for more than 20 minutes, rarely drive and lay around the house unless someone comes to pick me up on a "good day". I'm in support your decision to do the surgery and get your life back on track. I will be doing the same thing soon. Please let me know how it goes. Thanks and good luck! Christine


Thanks for all the well wishes. I'm nervous about the surgery but not actually for me; lining up childcare proves to be quite challenging. My husband is prepared to take off a few weeks and my dad is coming to stay for a week, but I'm nervous about my husband being the "only" parent 24/7. My doctor recommends having childcare for at least 4 weeks and then won't approve driving until 6 weeks post op. So now I'm looking for some honest advice about what my limitations are going to be? Will I be completely laid out for 4 weeks or will I be able to do simple things like heat up dinner, get sippy cups, go up and and stairs? I'm aware of "NO LIFTING" which is my doctor's new mantra to me (boy, does he get this mom thing or what???) but will I be mobile.
I have visions of me being locked up in the bedroom for 4 weeks and having to leave all the other stuff to my husband (including summer camp shuttling, t-ball, etc.)
What does this surgical recovery true look like? Timeline would be awesome! If you've had a horrible long recovery please don't respond; I'm already close to backing out.


Hi there! I am 36 years old and have a so called stable spondylolisthesis with a compressed disc at the lumbo-sacral joint. Over the last 2 years the pain has become quite bad, so I had X Rays done 2 weeks ago. They show that there has been some gradual slippage as a few years ago it was a grade 1 spondy and now it's borderline grade 2. I think most of the pain comes from the compressed disc and not from the spondy though.

My advice is to put off surgery as long as possible because:
-you only have 1 body. When it comes to your spine, you must be as careful as possible. Therefore a conservative approach for as long as possible is recommended. Pain management (drugs) and exercises from a biokineticist or physio to prevet further slippage can help. My chiropracter also recommends putting off surgery as long as possible (he just does needling and massage on me, NO mobilisation!!)
- While in most cases the surgery is successful, there is that very small percentage where things go wrong during surgery.......Spinal surgery must be considered very carefully.
- a grade1/2 spondy is not a severe spondy.
-there is NO guarantee that the pain will stop due to the surgery. Research shows this.
They will likely do a fusion and decompression, which means you will have foreign objetcs in your body - which could also lead to pain. Pain may initially decrease, but can flare up again with time.
-Even with surgery, your lifestyle won't be 100% free. You will still not be allowed to carry heavy things or pick up your children. You won't be able to do certain sports like jogging or horseriding or anything with jumping in it (you should NOT be doing these now either!!!!)
- What often happens with spinal fusions is that you get 1 fusion, then after a few years the next vertebra above slips and needs to be fused, then after a few more years the next vertebra above slips and gets fused...and so on. This doesn't always happen, but i think if there is a possiblility of such a chain reaction then it must be postponed as long as possible!! Otherwise a large part of the spine can end up fused.
- at your job and at home you need to watch your movements. Certain postures cause more pain. For example, avoid a lot of bending because it causes gravity to pull at that joint - rather remember to bend your knees. Try to keep the items that you need regularly at an easy to reach height in your cupborads and kitchen. Don't carry heavy objects. And don't always carry everything with the one hand/arm only - rather carry grocery bags with both hands at the same time, or wear a little day pack which goes over both shoulders. Don't sit on chairs that are very low and soft.....use chairs that use can stand up from easily.
-I think that surgery should only be considered once there is increased neurological involvement. especially if the MRI shows that the nerve roots aren't yet comrepssed and it's a stable spondy. For example, when the nerve roots gets comrpessed then it can cause the leg to become numb. This is the stage at which the condition is affecting your function more severely, and surgery may be considered to relieve the problem.

I am an occupational therapist, and i have decided to put off my surgery as long as possible!

Good Luck!


Hi again

I just wanted to clarify that in my post when spoke about surgery generally I was referring to spinal fusion and decompression......But I don't know what surgery your doctor has recommended for you.

When reading your post again i notice you are in a lot of pain - I don't want you to think I don't feel for what you are going through! I know at some point one wants to do just about anything to get rid of the pain! I know my own pain goes through stages of intensity...sometimes it's a little niggle and tightness at the location (pain scale 2 or 3 out of 10), and other times it it quite intense (pain scale 7/10) and lasts a few days. I also work at a school and i also notice how my lifestyle is not as free as it used to be and it is quite depressing. I have had to change the way i do some things at work but it's going ok for now. I am also worried that in the long run I may have to look into a job that is not as active...If you are in excrutiating non-stop pain then perhaps surgery will help alleviate it. I do still do feel however a conservative approach is best for as long as it is actually possible. Remember also that with or without the surgery, you will need to do exercises to improve your core stability and this will have to be an ongoing thing that has to be part of your routine. Also try getting a good orthopedic mattress and a heat pack, this really helps. Ask your physio what the best position is to sleep in. Some people also use injections for pain...only remember pain killers mask the problems so you don't really know how you feel...and if you get pregnant then medication will not be allowed.

You sound very brave! I recently got married (January....) and am now faced with the decision of whether to fall pregnant or not. Don't know how I will stick it out without painkillers and am hoping it won't make my problem worse. Given my age, i can't take too long to decide! Don't forget to ask your doctor about whether it's safer for your own health to be pregnant with or without a spinal fusion/decompression (IF that is the surgery he recommended). Also ask you doctor how long he thinks it will take before he thinks you will have neurological symptoms from nerve root compression etc (is it a matter of years?)......I just know that usually surgery is recommended only when neurological involvement becomes worse (eg the leg going numb).

Good Luck! And let us know how it all goes.


Short Comment: I noticed you are from the suburbs of Chicago, do you mind sharing who your doctor is? I lived in chicago for a long time, and dealt with my Spondy while there and have a great name for you (unless it is already your doctor). He is with Rush.