My Spinal Diagnosis

It was around February 2020 that a spine surgeon gave me my official diagnosis.

Much worse than you think…

“It’s much more serious than you think,” he told me.

“Oh, shit,” I thought.

My general doctor had said something about maybe getting some shots in a disc and that maybe this would be enough.

My general doctor: old guy’s a real optimist.

The surgeon told me the news.

I sat in my chair and gulped.

“Oh, shit!” That’s what I then said…

A marathon not a sprint

“You’re going to be okay,” he said. “You have to think about this more like a marathon than a sprint.”

So, when I initially received my diagnosis/explanation for my back pain, the surgeon named 4 main problems.

Mind you, I’m not a medical doctor and all of this stuff does definitely get extraordinarily complicated. There’s a reason these guys are doing 8 to 12 years of schooling with residencies etc. I get that! I respect that!

For instance, look at this passage from the Advanced Spine Center : “When spondylosis is left untreated, it may lead to spondylolisthesis. Spondylosis involves the separation of the pars interarticularis. In contrast, spondylolisthesis is defined by a slipped vertebra. When one bone of the spine slips forward over another, it causes damage to the spinal structure. In some cases, a stress fracture may be to blame. Other times, damage to the intervertebral discs may cause this instability of the spine.”

I include that passage to illustrate how complicated these medical diagnoses can get for a non-doctor.

My understanding of my spine diagnosis – 4 parts to it

With all of that said, as a layperson, this is my way of understanding the diagnosis I was given. It seemed to me that my diagnosis could kinda-sorta be put into four sub-categories.

1. spondylolisthesis
2. spondylosis/fractured vertebrae
3. spinal stenosis
4. two herniated discs/degenerative disc disease

You know, when I heard that list I was disturbed in an unsurprised sort of way (if that makes sense).

I mean, I was already in so much pain that I longed for the end. So, I wasn’t really surprised when Dr. Cortez was telling me that my condition was MUCH MORE SERIOUS than my general doctor had suggested.

I already knew I was a mess

When Dr. Cortez told me that this was going to be like a marathon getting me back in shape…I wasn’t at all surprised by any of this. I knew I was in a mess. I could feel it.


So, anyway, let’s start with the first thing on the list: spondylolisthesis. As Dr. Cortez said, “That’s a real mouthful!” Indeed it is…

Basically, as he explained, one of my lumbar vertebrae (which was also broken) had slipped forward onto the one beneath it. Now, the broken part isn’t necessary, I don’t believe, to qualify as spondylolisthesis. It’s just in my case a piece of the vertebrae had broken off. How did that happen? I’m not sure.

Anyway, here’s how the Cleveland Clinic describes spondylolisthesis:

“Spondylolisthesis is a condition involving spine instability, which means the vertebrae move more than they should. A vertebra slips out of place onto the vertebra below. It may put pressure on a nerve, which could cause lower back pain or leg pain.

The word spondylolisthesis (pronounced spohn-di-low-less-THEE-sis) comes from the Greek words spondylos, which means “spine” or “vertebra,” and listhesis, which means “slipping, sliding or movement.”

I believe in my case the fracture caused the slippage.


As far as spondylosis, I’ll let John Hopkins define that for us: “Spondylolysis is a stress fracture through the pars interarticularis of the lumbar vertebrae. The pars interarticularis is a thin bone segment joining two vertebrae.” I basically think of it as a broken vertebra.

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis, I believe, is easier to understand. It’s a narrowing of the spinal canal. This happens most often in the lumbar (lower) back. The narrowing can put pressure on your spinal cord and its nerves causing pain. My surgery technically was called a spinal fusion and decompression.

Herniated discs

Herniated discs means that the discs outer shell was actually cracked/broken and the squishy stuff was poking out. Not good!

The cumulative resulting depression of these spinal problems

And, the cumulative effect of all the above mentioned problems really had me thinking some morbid thoughts. I’m not going to lie about that. Living with this type of chronic pain is a miserable experience.

One thing I want to add for anybody presently struggling with the pain of spondylolisthesis and/or additional back problems…I want to say that I experienced this hell myself, and I believe there’s at least hope for you because I didn’t think I would ever be okay, and if Dr. Cortez managed to get me okay…then, there’s at least hope.