Living with Spondylolisthesis: Coping Strategies and Lifestyle Adjustments

Many people who have been diagnosed with spondylolisthesis may be concerned about the long-term effects of the condition and how it will impact their day-to-day lives. Spondylolisthesis can be very debilitating for some people and result in frequent periods of pain, sometimes chronic, which can impact a person’s mental health as well as physical well-being.

In this article, we will discuss what it is like to live with spondylolisthesis, including the coping strategies and lifestyle adjustments a person can make to help them live a normal, happy, and active life. We will also consider a few non-surgical treatment options that can effectively manage and reduce a person’s symptoms and pain level.

What is Spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis is a spinal condition that occurs when one or more of a person’s vertebrae (bones in the spine) slips forward. The vertebra can then come into contact with surrounding nerves which causes back or leg pain. However, in some cases, a person may not experience any symptoms whatsoever. This condition is most common in the lower back (lumbar) but can also occur in the upper regions and neck (cervical).

Spondylolisthesis has different grades/ stages which refers to the degree of how much the vertebrae have slipped, with grade 1 being a minor slippage and grade 6 being a severe case of spondylolisthesis. Activities such as gentle exercise, yoga, and swimming can be effective spondylolisthesis stage 1 treatment, while higher grades may require medication and a dedicated physical therapy program.

Symptoms of spondylolisthesis can include pain, numbness, a tingling sensation, and pins and needles in the feet.

Often there is no cause for this condition and it will usually occur naturally, although it could be the result of an injury (fracture) or deterioration in the spine. In rarer cases, a person’s spine may not have developed properly at birth making them more susceptible to spinal conditions like spondylolisthesis or spinal stenosis.

Preventing Spondylolisthesis From Worsening

Living with spondylolisthesis can be manageable without medical intervention if a person makes certain lifestyle adjustments and takes measures to avoid movements that worsen the condition.

Movements that may make spondylolisthesis-related pain worse can include:

  • Repetitive movements that contort the spine such as bending, twisting, and hyper-extending
  • Poor posture such as hunching or slumping when sitting.
  • Not lifting heavy objects with the proper technique

Although it is essential to stay active, it is also important to take care in avoiding movements that could put unnecessary strain on your spine. Regular appointments with a doctor or spine specialist can help keep your condition stable while minimizing symptoms. Working with a physical therapist who can devise an exercise plan can also be extremely beneficial.

Exercises that involve lots of bending down, twisting, and flexing the spine can make spondylolisthesis worse. This includes many sports, including contact sports (football or basketball), gymnastics, weightlifting, martial arts, and wrestling.

Although yoga and pilates are recommended for maintaining a healthy spine, some positions are not advised for a person with spondylolisthesis such as the upward dog pose. If a certain exercise is causing pain, even a gentle one then you should speak with your physical therapist to decide on an alternative.

Spondylolisthesis Lifestyle Adjustments

One of the simplest yet effective lifestyle adjustments a person can make to improve their spondylolisthesis is taking regular walks each day. Walking keeps a person active and mobile to ensure muscles and joints are engaged without putting extra pressure on the back like some exercises. Doctors and physical therapists will always recommend walking regularly to keep fit and promote better spine health.

Even if you are out of shape or carrying excess weight, it is possible to implement walking into your daily routine. This can be achieved by starting with just 5-to-10-minute walks each day until your cardio fitness and muscle strength improve to increase the duration of walks to 30-40 minutes. However, it is important to pace yourself and not to push yourself too hard. If you feel like your symptoms are being aggravated then you should pause and take a rest, and perhaps reduce your walking time for a few days.

Maintaining good posture is also vital for anyone who has spondylolisthesis. Always ensure your spine is in a neutral position and you are not slouching or hunched when sitting at a desk or in an armchair. This can be helped by placing a cushion between your lower back and the chair to keep your spine straight. Try to ensure your feet are flat on the ground as opposed to them being crossed too as this keeps your spine in a natural position.

Sticking to a healthy and balanced diet is highly recommended, especially if you are overweight. Not only will losing weight reduce the amount of pressure placed on your spine while sitting and walking, but eating healthy food can also minimize inflammation. Fatty, fried foods, red meat, dairy, and processed foods all contain inflammatory properties and should be avoided as much as possible. Instead, anyone with spondylolisthesis should focus on eating plenty of leafy greens, beans, nuts, fish, and fruit/ vegetables like celery, peppers, broccoli, olives, and avocado.

Spondylolisthesis Coping Mechanisms

Spinal conditions like spondylolisthesis can have a significant and detrimental impact on a person’s mental health. Because of this, a person should focus on improving their overall well-being through alternative treatments that can make a person feel healthier and reduce any stress and anxiety. If you are struggling with the daily impact of spondylolisthesis then it may also be worth considering seeking therapy or counseling to receive professional feedback on how to cope with the condition.

Activities such as yoga, pilates, tai chi, acupuncture, massage therapy, aromatherapy, meditation, and breathing exercises are all effective at easing stress levels. For the full benefit of exercises like yoga, it is always advised to consult with a professional who can show you the proper technique to avoid injury or over-straining.

Thank you for reading. If you are living with spondylolisthesis we hope you find an effective treatment plan and well-being program to help manage the symptoms and help you lead a normal and active life.