Can you say ‘Spondylolisthesis’?

Well done if you can!  I personally still find it a bit of a tongue twister.

The anatomy geeks out there will know exactly what this is, but for those of you who’ve never heard of this or are a bit rusty on the old anatomy front, to quote fellow yogi, Jennifer Aniston from her classic L’Oreal commercial, “Here’s the science bit”:

“The term spondylolisthesis refers to the anterior slippage of one vertebra on another, most commonly L5 on sacrum or L4 or L5.  This can be caused by a fracture of the ‘pars interarticularis’; often the result of high impact falls as in a skiing accident.  It can also be a congenital defect’” – Chris Swain

Chris is the anatomy guru from my YTT course – an award-winning osteopath and a yoga practitioner and teacher for over 20 years. He even has a name given to him by his teacher who he lived with in a temple (though he told us he never uses it now – probably not so necessary at home in the UK, but that’s by the by).  Basically, Chris knows his stuff.

Anyhow, it looks like spondylolisthesis might be what has been causing my sciatica according the x-rays I saw of my spine in the chiropractor’s consultation room.  In my case it looked like L5 had slipped onto S1, hence the pressure on the sciatic nerve.  I also noticed a nice ‘S’ shaped curve in my spine – right thoracic scoliosis – an unexpected, though not entirely surprising bonus.

“I have a tilted womb – welcome to getting older world! Can I be in your gang?” 

That was one of the first responses I got from a friend after sharing the news. This is why I love my mates.

Pain is a great motivator and it was pain that got me to chiropractor’s office.  In the month or so running up to final YTT assessments backbends had gone from slightly uncomfortable to definitely painful.  (As it happens, extension of the spine – backbending – is contra-indicated for spondylolisthesis, which would explain the pain I was experiencing.) After the best part of three frustrating years of trying to confirm the cause of my sciatica and patching myself up in between, this was the final straw.  Yoga is the only thing that has consistently helped, but now I needed to take some other action.

Maybe because I am in denial or maybe because I am stubborn, I am getting a second opinion.  I want to be absolutely sure about what’s going on so that I can make an informed decision with regard to what to do about treatment.  I’ve just had more x-rays done, at hospital this time, and get those results back with my doctor in about a week’s time.  Though before I went to get changed out of the rather flattering hospital gown after the x-rays were done, the radiographer did comment, “Oh yeah, you can see the scoliosis straight off”.   I suspect she wasn’t meant to say this, as when I asked if she saw anything in the lumbar spine area she got a bit flustered and mumbled something about just seeing the curve of my lower back.

Crap.  Is that a bad sign?  That got me really paranoid about what she did or didn’t see on the x-rays…

I’m having an MRI scan tomorrow which I am really glad about.  It should confirm what’s going’s on – whether it is definitely spondylolisthesis or something else.  But I’ve started to feel a bit anxious about it.  Not about the scan itself though. I’ve started to wonder about the potential outcomes and what that might mean for me teaching-wise.  I know my mind should not be racing ahead and speculating, but this wasn’t quite the situation I had envisaged right after graduation.

My practice has changed over the past weeks – less frequently and certainly no backbends, for now. And no dynamic practices which has been frustrating.  It’s shown me in a big way just how attached I’ve become to my physical practice.  And with other stresses going on in my life, my practice – the thing I would usually count on – is in flux.  And I don’t feel comfortable with that yet.

I went to a class recently where the teacher said that injury can be a gift.  An opportunity to re-focus. That’s how I am trying to see this time.  The learning never stops and, I feel, there are some new lessons for me to learn here.


  1. Jennifer @ Flowtation Devices on 30/11/2011 at 10:30 pm

    Your diagnosis will almost definitely be an asset to your yoga teachings. I used to be able to bend every which way until I hurt my hip 2 years ago; now, I can no longer do pigeon, and most hip-opening poses need to be modified. It was super frustrating at first (and I still have bouts of “Waaahh, I used to be able to do ____ [insert pose here]!”), but it has certainly opened my eyes more to the more subtle aspects of yoga and has taught me about the “inquiry” of the practice, because I am constantly asking myself, “Hmm, how can I make that pose accessible for my body?” It has made me more aware of the fact that everyone’s body is different and just because one looks healthy and limber doesn’t mean every pose is available to him/her. I never understood how some people had trouble sitting in crossed-leg pose until my hip went wonky; now I have to use blankets to prop up my knees!

    Good luck in getting an official diagnosis, and just remember that life is all about modify, modify, modify!

    • humbleyogini on 02/12/2011 at 4:55 pm

      Thanks Jennifer! 🙂 I have an appointment next week to get my results and talk through them, so hopefully things will be clearer then. I am trying to see this as a good thing to learn from, but still find myself feeling frustrated and feeling limited in my practice at times – I got really low about it this week. I am definitely finding I am more aware of different bodies in relation to poses in class – v true that assuming a pose is accessible to someone based on appearances isn’t the best idea! Whatever the outcome with this particular experience, I hope I can use this in a positive way as I move forward, in my practice and when teaching.

  2. karram24 on 03/12/2011 at 10:45 pm

    Hi there! I was just reading thru your post. I have congenital spondylolisthesis…although I was a ballerina from the time I was 3-4 years old and did not find out until I was 16 when I had a bit of pain in my hip (not uncommon for my rigorous physical schedule), but the X-Rays showed the real problem. They told me the incredible core strength I had maintained from dancing was likely to be the reason I was so functional and problem free. I started to bump up my core conditioning (what later became more of a popular fitness trend…Pilates:), and was able to continue dancing until I was 19/20, but ultimately had to stop in 1999. I decided to become a Yoga and Pilates instructor at that point to keep up with my own routine and to learn more/help others. No matter what other paths I go down with my life, career, fitness routine….I have found (especially now in my 30’s) that maintaining serious, total core strength is what keeps me out of the Docs office and pain free. If I slip on that….I always begin to have pain again. I usually do some basic pilates, planks (especially side planks), and hip openers 3 times a week on my own no matter what, and it mitigates a lot of the trouble I know I can get into with pain and discomfort. Keep trying to find what works for you….the experience will make you stronger in your teaching and working with others. Best wishes in all you are doing!!

    • humbleyogini on 08/12/2011 at 1:06 am

      Thanks Karen – that’s good to hear! I’ve been concerned about what this might mean for me teaching-wise, so it’s encouraging to know it’s not held you back. Core strength and pilates keep coming up as I investigate more into ways I can help myself with this. Thanks so much for your words of encouragement and your advice! 😀 You are the first teacher I’ve heard from with spondylolisthesis and I am truly grateful to you for taking the time to read my post and comment on it – it really means a lot!

  3. […] to this I’ve definitely been knocked by the recent changes to my asana practice.  (Since my last post I’ve had confirmation that I do have spondylolisthesis.) Given that currently I’m not able to […]

  4. […] since confirmation of my spondy, in seeking advice on how I might work on addressing this, one word (even from some fellow yoga […]

  5. […] of vinyasa flow with Shiva Rea and attending numerous workshops. I’ve continued to learn from my spondylolisthesis in my own asana practice. And mostly, I’ve learned from everyone I’ve been fortunate enough to […]

  6. […] mirror and working one-to-one with a teacher. X-rays and scans confirmed mild scoliosis as well as spondylolisthesis, so the wonky chaturanga then made sense. Not long ago I had the experience of being in a workshop […]

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