Greetings from Seattle

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


This is a new word in my vocabulary, and a diagnosis I have been dealing with for the past several weeks. For quite a while now I have been experiencing pain and instability in my right leg and foot when I sit for prolonged periods of time, especially in straight backed chairs. But when I flew home from my Arizona trip last month, the discomfort became a plague for most of the two and a half hours that I was trapped in my seat. Then I could barely walk off the plane. I decided it was time to consult a doctor. I made an appointment, was seen, and referred for xrays. Then I went home. The results came by email. Our Group Health Cooperative Medical System is very techno savvy. The diagnosis was "that word", which I will call "spondy" for short. Included was a brief definition, and a referral for physical therapy. At Physical therapy I learned that I should never sit without lumbar support, and airplane seats are the worst. So what is spondylolisthesis? Essentially it is displacement of a vertebra in the lower spine, literally "spondyl" = vertebrae, and "olisthesis" = slip. How did it occur? Probably wear and tear, complicated by arthritis, of which the xray showed "lots" in my knee and back. Goody. Why is it a problem? Because the spine can press on nerves, especially the sciatic nerve running down the back of the leg. What I'm experiencing is a form of sciatica. So what do I do about it? Well, too much pressure on a nerve can cause real damage. I only have to look at my mother to see the effects. The pain, burning and weakness in my leg are my barometer to know when it is happening. I have some core strengthening exercises to do each day, and I have invested in several lumbar supports for my chairs. Now every time I sit I feel like I have lump in my back. I have back aches from the treatment that I didn't have before. I find myself constantly monitoring for leg/foot sensations. Out gardening I wonder if I am making it worse. Because of her trip and then mine, it's three weeks between physical therapy visits. I'm over fixating and it's making me depressed. Time for some self help: It took a long time to get this way and it will take time to figure out how to live with it. Knowing is better than not knowing because you can take action. I have medical insurance. There is always surgery. I can still walk and talk and garden and have fun, but I am excused from the heavy lifting. These are all good things. Now I need to lighten up. Literally, losing weight wouldn't hurt either.


  1. Oh Linda..I am sorry to hear about this. I have heard of it, but don't know that much about it. I have a disc problem in my lower back that causes problems and the best thing I have found is physical therapy to strengthen the muscle to help the back. You might ask about an occupational therapist who might be able to advise you on the best way to do your daily activities so as not to make things worse. If your insurance will pay for PT, it should pay for OT too. It's Ok to feel depressed about something that is changing the way you do your activities and causes pain. I am sending a hug..Michelle

  2. Oh Linda I'm sorry about this. I completely understand. I have had two back surgeries. I herniated disks about one and a half years apart. I use lumbar support always and the excercises from pt help as well. However, I will never be as before and I know when I overdo it. The familiar old burning sensation and back ache begins to rear its ugly head. Hope you improve soon.

  3. Any back or leg/knee problems are never any fun, but I guess they go with territory of age -- beginning to almost totally dislike that word! I have them, probably not as major as yours and I'm glad you got the information that you did as well as medication. I'm sorry, because as I said, it's no fun and one does have to make adjustments. I do hope you're feeling better very soon!

  4. I'm sorry to hear that. But, you are right, knowing is better than not knowing. Trust me on that! I hope it all feels better soon.

  5. Sorry to hear about your diagnosis, and as you said, it's a matter of physical therapy, to doing things differently, to a bit of chagrin, and some new paths that will surface. Knowing your attitude and resolve, I'm betting that your adjustment will be faster than others. Good luck with this.

  6. like your new header with yellow spring bursting forth. sorry to hear of your back problems. health issues do make you get serious about loosing weight. since I've had my diabetes diagnosis I'm watching my weight and cut out sugar completely and have lost about 15 pounds and feel so much better. My mantra for my life is act don't react-that puts you in charge. Hope you're feeling more in control and have less pain soon. Old age isn't for sissies! LOL!

  7. Linda I love your new header picture, it's wonderful. Really picked my spirits up when I saw it.

    If you read my posts for the last day or so you'll see I'm having problems too. I don't think I know anyone my age who doesn't have or is beginning to have back problems. I think it goes with that thing called aging. Two or three years ago when I started having symptoms similar to yours I went to my doctor and we discussed doing a MRI. He said he usually did not order an MRI if he wasn't use the results in his medical plan. He says he's reluctant to order back surgeries for people like me. He thinks back surgeries almost always leave lasting problems and at that point in time he didn't think my symptoms were worse than the after affects of surgery would be.

    I use lumbar support also. At first it drove me crazy but I grew to love those pillows.

    I agree about the airplane seat. I flew to Texas and back during a bad episode and thought I was going to die.

    I've never had a formal diagnosis but my symptoms are a lot like yours. I've kind of learned what I have to do when I feel it coming on.

    Exercise is most important and I haven't been doing that and I'm paying the price for it. Also a cold pack on your lower back helps me some.

    The siatica part is a real pill to live with. Grrrr

    Wonder what else we have to look forward to in this journey we're on as seniors. Thank goodness we have more medical opportunities than our parents had.

  8. I LOVE your new header photo although I LOVED your other gorgeous shot, too. I also love that photo of you both in Paris.

    I'm so very sorry to hear about your diagnosis. I've never heard of that condition before. I just put a padding on my back for support. Take care.

  9. Sorry that you have spondylolisthesis Linda. I hope you can control the discomfort.
    You have given me a new word now for my U3A newsletter "Word of the Month" for May. :) - Dave

  10. You were so supportive of me and meanwhile you're going thru your own version of what I have decided to simply call 'Oy! It aches!'

    You will get used to the lumbar supports as I got used to needing to learn how to work at the PC with my leg elevated - it took a lot of muttering and cursing under my breath.

    You're a good friend Linda, thank you.


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