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Spondylolisthesis,with other sysmptoms and a recent car accident

Started by phlip1967 on 07/15/2011 11:56am

Hello everyone,
I have been dealing with spondylolisthesis bilateral pars defects at L-5 S-1 and possibly one side on the L-4 L-5, as well as stenosis, two bulging discs L-4 & L-5. I have the L-5, S-1 vertabre slipped out at a grade 1-2. I also have Stenosis, Sciatica, DDD, Lower Limb Radicular Pain Syndrome over two years now. The pain meds they prescribe me do not work any longer. And to top it all off I was recently rear-ended by a Taxi on the way to my neurosurgeon and there are new sysmptoms. That are starting on the right side of my body. I am considering surgery but am a bit phobic.
My question is this, what may I expect form that surgery and how long will it take to recover? I've seen horror stories on other websties including this one and am very fearfull. I know how much I hurt now and would hate to be in any more pain than I am currently. It seems that since the accident, which happened three day ago my pain has doubled.
My pain was normally just on the right side of my body and now has moved to the left since the the car wreck. I am hopiing this did not hurt my back any futher, but that apparently doesn't seem to be the case. And of course since it is a taxi company they are giviing me the run around. I have also been fighting to get Social Security Disability seeing as every doc I see says I cannot work. Once again the question is, what can I expect form the surgrey and how much pain will I be in afterwards, as well as the recuperation time?
One other thing has any one ever heard of a surgeon not doing surgrey becasue of a cigarette smoking habit?

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16 Responses


Dear phlip1967,

That is more than I understand; however, I did have stenosis and spondylolisthesis, I'm not sure what all else. I've had 2 back surgeries, the 1st to fix those issues at the L4-L5, the second to fix L3 that was wayyyy to loose and repair my fractured S1. I am now fused L3-4-5-S1. The issue of pain from the surgery wasn't my problem. There are very good pain meds to help. I hated the daily pain. My quality of life was so poor. I wanted to be able to live life, not exist in life. I do hate the restriction from the lack of mobility from the fusion. Tying shoes is harder, but I've figured that out, put a foot on a chair or stair and tie my shoe lace, then switch. A small price to pay for no longer walking with a cane. I am living my life!!! 1st surgery I was 47, the 2nd I was 48. I am now 55 and going strong. Last fall, in 6 days I hiked to see 25 waterfalls. I couldn't have done any before the surgeries. In the last 5 weeks I have painted 2 bedrooms, 2 coats primer & 2 coats paint, ceiling and walls, in each room. That may not sound like a big deal, but it is. I had to move all the furniture out, all the clothes out, remove all wall decor and patch holes. I am doing it all myself, while my husband is gone for 2 months. I am now working on the bathroom. I removed a big mirror attached to the wall (did not break it either!) and took out the medicine cabinet. I did my 1st sheet rocking and mudding myself, oh and had to replace the darn sink drain, the whole drain, myself too.

I am not Super Woman, just a determined woman. I never would have even thought about helping someone else do this work before the surgeries. My point to all this is...........if you trust your surgeon, (and that is absolutely required to have a successful outcome) then let him or her help you live a better life. You MUST do what they say though. Wear the braces, walk, walk, and walk some more after the surgery. Obey the lifting limits too. You can give a year of healing to stop this pain right? The year is the fusion healing. You will take it easy, keep every appointment and do what ever it takes to be a healthier you, if you want to live life again. I have a low pain tollerance and I survived. Oh, and don't listen to the horror stories out there. Yes bad stuff happens to others, that doesn't mean it will happen to you. Research what your surgeon wants to do and ask ALOT of questions. Get a 2nd opinion if you think you need to, even a third. I went throughabout 5 doctors before I found the awesome surgeon who played no games, took my pain seriously and told me what he would do to help me live better. I did what he told me to do and will never regret it!!

And about the smoking, YES-QUIT!!! My surgeon told me he wouldn't even touch me if I was smoking. He said the chemicals in the cigarettes could prevent the fusion from healing and then I would be in worse shape than if he never did do surgery on me. So, with my daughters wedding 3 months away I quit. Yes, bad timing, but I just thought it through. Did I want to smoke or walk? Walking won!!!

One last thing; my surgeon came out to talk to my husband after my surgery. He said he was so glad we didn't wait much longer, the stenosis was so bad that I wouldn't have been able to walk much longer. I was headed to a wheelchair very soon had I not had the surgery. I still miss cigarettes, I won't lye to you, but it's just not worth it. I'm saving money, healthier and no longer smell. And I can WALK WITHOUT PAIN. It's a win-win!!

I wish you all the best success at quiting the smokes and having a wonderfully successful surgery so you too can live life.


P.S. I survived a bout with breast cancer 2 years ago also. Be strong, live strong!!!


I work with a neurosurgeon closely. Spondylolisthesis has a good prognosis with skilled, corrective fusion. The challenge is to find someone who is good at this surgery. i suggest you check outwww.lateralaccess.org to learn more. I happen to live in Atlanta and work with a neurosurgeon that specializes in minimally invasive fusions- see the above website. Good luck to you. Dr. Castanet.


I don't think they care about your smoking. Unless it is a cardiovascular procedure.


The person that I live with that smoked had to smoke outside for the whole healing process, as my spine is not yet formed they are getting a little bit pissy with me. You will not heal as fast, and may require a second, more invasive surgery. If nothing else see if the vaporless cigarettes are a better solution. Nicotene no smoke. Who knows?

As far as pain and recuperation - it is differently for everyone. If you expect less pain and are mentally prepared that you are going to experience less pain - I think it helps. Post surgery, no matter how bored you are, don't push things. Let your spine and the doctor determine your rates of movement and activity.

Good Luck.


I would like to thank everyone who replied to my question. I am still a bit fearful of any type of surgery but being as I've been in to two ER's in the last four days It's sounding more acceptable.
I am certainly going to get a few different opinions on this matter however. If these IDIOT doctors would actually listen to their pateints about how bad that persons pain is and give them proper medication instead of giving them meds that one might get for lets say a sprained ankle I think I would be able to do just fine without the surgery. I mean come on, I have three broken bones, three herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, stenosis, spondyolothiesis, & sciatica. Do doctors REALLY think that general pain medication is going to helpwith any of the pain associated wiht all of these sysmptoms?? Perrcocet 5/325, MS Cotin 15mg Er, Diazapem 5 mg doesn't even touch the pain I suffer. However whenever you bring it up pretty much every doc I've been to so far ahs just flat refused to even discuss this. What a joke.I'm being refered to a new pain management doctor here very soon and he is also my brother and his wifes PM doc and they tell me he is very good so I'm hoping I can have a reasonable discussion with him and he will prescribe medication that actually helps.
Once again thank you all for your input and please feel free to respond to my original post or this one. Can't wait to hear from everyone.


Been there done that too. Please remember, no one will head straight to a surgery plan, that would be even more scary. They will try drugs, try Physical Therepy, try shots, before they decide on surgery. This isn't all bad though, you don't want surgery if you don't have to have it. I know how hard it is to deal with. It was only 6 months after my 1st surgery when the leg pains started again. It to a full year before I had the second surgery. Second verse, same as the first, try everything before surgery. And 1 year seemed pretty fast compared to the first go round.

So hang in there. The right doctor WILL listen to you, see how bad you are and do his or her best to come up with the best way to help you.

My Best Wishes to you.


Hi hon,

I totally can relate. I, too, have Spondylolisthesis, bilateral pars fractures, stenosis, herniated discs, DDD, Sciatica, etc. So, my lumbar looks very much like yours.

My Spondy is grade 2-3, 15mm and because of the pars defects, my spondy is now unstable and moves 3mm in both flexion and extension.

I've had the burning leg pain for years and have done everything conservative possible as I am also terrified of the surgery. But, after a recent flare-up, we did an exray which showed that the Spondy is unstable and therefore I am now, pretty much without a choice in having the corrective surgery.

I know it's going to be a long recovery, but I've resigned myself to the fact that it is now inevitable.

I consulted with both an orthopedic surgeon and a neurosurgeon and have decided to go with the neurosurgeon because - in my mind - my nerves are more important than my bones! LOL! I've been fitted with a custom made "chair back brace," which mimics a fusion and I have to say that it does alleviate some of my pain.

They say that you shouldn't really do spinal surgery for pain, because it is likely you will still be in some level of pain afterwards, but the hope is that it will be less. My docs told me it's best to do it when you absolutely cannot stand the pain anymore and/or you are damaging the nerves, or have spinal instability. So, I'm in the chute! LOL!

My best friend had a cervical fusion (smoker) and the first fusion failed because of that. Apparently nicotine decreases bone growth, which you desperately need after the fusion. My doc is (I'm positive) going to make me quit for the surgery, which sux, but if it'll help my back heal, I'll do as he asks. My best friend said she hurt so much afterwards that she didn't even want to struggle to get outside to smoke anyways! LOL!

So yeah, I have heard of docs not doing the fusion if the patient won't quit smoking becuase it almost always will result in a non-union.

I also experienced my leg pain switching from my left leg (which it has almost always been on) to the right and my doc said that because the Spondy is unstable, as the vetebrae moves around, it can very well shift from one bundle of nerves to another.

Lastly, my doc also advises that there is a very real and very likely fact that after the fusion, the discs above will "blow out" within a few years (depending on activity level) because of the added stress on them because of the fusion.

So, I guess I just wanted you to know that you're not alone. Get an exray of flexion and extension to see if your spondy is stable. If you can hold out for a while longer, go for it. If you've reached the end of your rope and your doc feels you are doing more nerve damage by waiting, you might wanna discuss surgical corrections.

Hope this helps. I really wish you luck as I can totally relate to everything you're feeling. Please keep us posted, kay? :)


I hear you loud and clear! I am a 39 year old mom with spondylolisthesis, bilateral foraminal stenosis, DDD, disc prolapse, annular tear, pars fracture, radiculopathy and facet joint sclerosis.

The last 3 years have been one struggle after another trying to find the right medication and conservative therapy that would reduce my pain and allow me to lead a normal life...all failed.

I currently am waiting for surgery for L5-S1 decompression and fusion with a PLIF. I am unable to stand up for more than 5 minutes before my leg starts with the usual nerve compression symptoms and if crying made it better I'd be drowning in my tears. Little by little my mobility is being taken from me and I now rely on mobility aides to get out of bed, take a shower and just move about in my home.

You are not alone in your pain and in your suffering. I wish physicians would be more proactive rather than reactive and perhaps alot of us would be better off than we are now.



Wow, CML. I feel ya, hon. Do you have a surgery date yet?
I really hope it'll help you out. Having spinal pain SUX!

They're planning a PLIF for me as well (among a few other things at the same time). The doc doesn't know, though, if he'll fuse the spondy where it is, or try to position it back in place before fusion. There seems to be debates about that, like sometimes, trying to force it back into position can cause more problems because the body's musculature, etc. have already adapted it to being out of place - and by forcing it, it can actually put too much pressure on the hardware, or cause more damage by trying to force it back. So, some docs actually fuse it where it is (let sleeping dogs lie, I guess), and other scenarios seem okay to realign it before fusion. I even read one post where someone's doc moved it back some, but not all the way before fusing.

You'd think with MRI's that they would know exactly what the game plan is, but I guess MRI's aren't the same as actually seeing things in 'living color.' Another post I read, they were scheduled for a PLIF and then woke up, with the 360 incisions - doc decided to add an ALIF once he got in there...

Well, hopefully we'll all be in better shape soon!


Hi Bunnysnax,

*sigh*, no surgery date as of yet. I'm with an orthosurgeon but now wondering if a neurosurgeon is a better option...

Anyways, I waited almost a year to see this orthosurgeon due to the combo of him being off work for 4 months due to a broken ankle and that he's in great demand. Had my first appointment in June this year...waited over 2 1/2 hours past my scheduled appointment for him to come into the room! He took one look at my latest MRI and said I needed surgery. It was a very cut and dry appointment and in hindsight has left me with tons of questions. At that time he said there was up to a 6 month waiting period for surgery and that I would also be placed on a cancellation list. Since then my symptoms have gotten increasingly worse and my GP tried expediting my surgery to no avail...surgeon is away on holidays for the month of August! Grrrr So the best I get is another appointment with him in September. I am frustrated and he's in for a whole new patient than he met last time.

Based on the MRI (that was taken Dec 2010) that he was viewing during my June appt, he said the L5-S1 disc is completely gone and the L4-L5 disc is 75% gone but that he would only do the one disc because with every fusion problems continue upward on the spine. I already am showing problems in the thoracic area and for the past month or so, I'm getting that creeping sensation on my left shoulder (ya know, the one where you think you've got a bug crawling on ya?)

How long have you been dealing with all of this? Do you require any aides in your daily living? When is your surgery date?




Forgot to ask you...has your doctor ever mentioned if you have a high pelvic incidence related to the spondylolisthesis?

I have this...attempted a Google search on it and am wondering if anyone else has knowledge about it because I have tremendous hip pain...it started last year with my right hip and has now moved to the left hip. Although I feel pain in both sides, it's predominantly in the left hip and it's like my hips won't rotate anymore...stairs are a real treat these days.



Last question first regarding cigarette smoking. 1) Smoking can produce very serious complications during and after anesthesia. 2) It will definitely hinder the fusion process in your back. Sorry, but smoking and having a lumbar fusion are counterproductive. Most surgeons want their pre-fusion patients to quit before surgery.

Also, please feel free (and this goes for anyone who would like to talk with fusion patients, past and present, regarding the surgery, the outcomes and the procedure itself) to join our Yahoogroup which has been in existence for almost a decade: http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/LooseScrews2/ The archived posts alone are worth taking a look. Follow many of us through our pre-op and post-op lives with lumbar fusions. Ask questions. Talk with people who have had this done. I've had three lumbar fusions (in seven years) because of many of the lower back problems you cite. I thought I was done after the first one, but it didn't turn out that way. Your surgeon probably won't tell you that.

Anyway, I hope you join us, even if it's just to take a peek in at what we're discussing and to look at the older posts of those of us who have been around for a while. Best of luck to you in whatever you decide to do.



I'm sorry you're having to wait so long for this surgeon. Is he worth the wait? And are you doing any more possible damage to yourself by waiting? As for maybe checking with another doc - I always think it's a good idea (particularly when dealing with spine surgery). There are debates on whose better to work with – like, either an Ortho or a Neurosurgeon. In my case, I opted for a neuro because in my mind, my nerves are more important than my bones! LOL! But it’s totally an individual preference. I think it’s super important to have a good repoir (sp?) with the the doc, too.

I’ve been dealing with back pain in general since I was a young teen. I thought it was just too much gymnastics training…but over the years it got progressively worse…ultimately, in late 90s I was diagnosed with the Spondy and in the last few years (despite all conservative methods possible), it’s gotten so bad, I’ve got to get the corrective surgery.

I haven’t heard of the “pelvic incidence” – what is that exactly? I mean, yeah, my hips/gluts hurt a lot, but that’s probably because both of my L5 nerve roots are being “severely” impinged.

I know what you mean about the pain switching sides. Mine has always been predominantly on the left leg, but in the last few months it has switched over to include the right as well. As my spondy is unstable, the doc says it can fluctuate from side to side as it moves around.

Hiya Cupcake! 

Yeah, I just saw my neurosurgeon today and he said I’ll have to quit for the procedure because nicotine apparently inhibits bone growth.

I checked out the group you mentioned and it does look like a great resource! Spinehealth is another good site for info – lots of members and its pretty active board. So thank you for that!

My doc did say that it is highly likely I’ll end up blowing out the disc above the fusion in a few years. So, I’m kind of preparing for such things. No one I know who has had any kind of spinal surgery has had just ONE. All of them have at least 2. So, I guess it’s just a fact of life.

I’ll probably be taking the plunge the last week of November or the first week of December. So thanks for you well-wishings and I certainly wish you the best as welll!

p.s. - How are you doin' Philip?!


Hi Bunnysnax,

I hope this surgeon is worth the wait...he is highly regarded in his field...I have thought about the whole second opinion option but here in Canada, specialists take months to see and I don't have that kind of time anymore. It will be interesting to hear what the orthosurgeon has to say at next month's appointment because I most certainly have progressed downhill since my inital visit with him in June.

He mentioned in his letter to my GP about this high pelvic incidence. From what I read online, it's the angle at which your pelvis sits. My misalignment has caused some shifting of internal organs and things aren't exactly where they should be. With the long list of things wrong, I have no idea which came first...I'm assuming the Spondy and DDD, the rest seem to happen because of these.

Oh I'm sure there is damage being done every day I wait. Mornings are really tough with pain, then I have about 4 hours where I can putter around and then by dinnertime the pain is increasing and I turn back into the wicked witch because the burning pain is running down my leg! Do you get the sensation of water running down your leg? This is an interesting one, if you haven't.

Was it your decision to seek a neurosurgeon over an orthosurgeon? How long have you been contemplating surgery and why do you think you'll take the plunge in November/ December? Do you use any type of help aides now or take any medications for your symptoms?



Hiya CML!

Oh, you're in Canada, huh? Yeah, I've heard it can take a long time to get in to see docs. But, hell, here in the US we have to pay for all our med stuff, so I wonder if it's better or not sometimes! LOL! I have insurance, but have an obscene deductible.

Well, if this guy has that great of a reputation, I suppose he'll be worth the wait. Just be really careful with your back and be gentle with yourself so you can minimize damage until you can see him.

The pelvic thing - I think I understand what you mean. Because of the spondy, many people's pelvis actually tilts forward a bit, mine does, which also exaggerates the natural concave curvature of the lumbar spine. That itself helps increase the pain of the spondy.

I'm sorry that you're in such pain. Do they have you on any meds?

I'm waiting until the end of November/1st week of December because I'm getting ready to start my last semester for my Master's degree. So, I really want to get that finished first. I'd hate to do it now and still have that one semester left. Additionally, i plan on going on to my doctorate classes, which start in january - (which I can take online) - so it'd be perfect for me to wait. The plan is to finish the masters in December - get surgery - then in January, I should be recovered enough to take 2 online classes while I recover at home.

I asked the doc if it was safe enough for me to wait another 4 months, and he said it should be okay. But, he said, if things start going south real bad, to call him and we may have to move it up and toss my "plan" aside - or put it on hold anyways.

So i'm gonna do my best to be super careful, so I can make it to December 1st! LOL!

As for meds - they are the only thing keeping me from getting it done next week! HAHA!! If I didn't have the pain managed and under control (for the most part) there's no way I could wait. The pain is awful. They have me on Norco 4-5x day (pain), Flexorial 2x day (muscle cramps/spasms), and Neurontin 3x day (nerve pain). It helps enough so that I can at least function on a basic level. I can't do alot of the harder house/yard work, but hubby helps with that stuff.

So when you see this guy, you'll still have to wait months and months to get the surgery? And have you researched everything that you'll need to know about your surgery?


Hi BunnySax,

When you click "respond to this discussion" are you able to see my last message? I can't see yours...it always goes back to the very first post by Philip. If I miss any questions you ask me, just re-ask. :0)

I got the short end of the stick on my back issues. I've suffered from Sciatica for atleast 15 years... it wasn't until a string of referrals to other specialists for what was believed gyno issues that the severity of my spine issues came to light. My GP wasn't the one who suggested I see an orthosurgeon, it was my physiotherapist...and it wasn't until my GP received the letter from the orthosurgeon that she realized I needed surgery and still to this day is only convinced on the surgery aspect because I have several nerves compressed...other than that she would not "believe" I needed surgery. Also, for the past 3 years of being passed around from one specialist to another, my GP wasn't always in the know of everything being found or going on/ treatments.

So, I keep my hopes up for this surgeon to work his magic. His name doesn't appear on the top 10 list of doctors but then again, ratings are opinions and if I can hold off until my magical time with him, then I trust my GP who chose him for me to see. I will most certainly be asking him about the neuro aspect of my surgery because my consult appointment was extremely quick and he didn't relay alot of information...it was more of what either myself or my husband could come up with after hearing that yes, I absolutely required surgery (remember it took months for me to see him so not knowing what could happen, we didn't go fully prepared to hear surgery).

I was given no instruction as to what I can and cannot do so it's basically a daily, personal thing of what I am comfortable with. And no, I have no idea about this surgery or it's aftermath (by a professional)...the info I have comes from other's experiences I've read via the internet.

Although I currently live in Canada, I was born and raised in America. I am originally from Michigan and will always consider the USA my home. :0) Canada's "free healthcare" has it's drawbacks and not everything is free.

I worked with a medical pharmacist through my GP's office to try and find some sort of medicinal relief but nothing worked...but then again, at the time, I was dealing with different pain than I am now. I am also limited as to what I can take because I have kidney disease. I take an incredible amount of medication each day already for that,

Congrats on pursuing and finishing your education. I bet at the rate I'm waiting and your desire to finish your Masters, we'll be having our surgery around the same time. :o)