Spondylolisthesis Surgery Recovery

Have you heard of spondylolisthesis? This prevalent spinal condition comes on when a vertebra slips out of its proper position. The vertebra settles on the spinal bone beneath it and may press on nearby nerves, leading to back pain and neurological symptoms.

In its more severe forms, spondylolisthesis can require surgery. Patients who must undergo spondylolisthesis surgery often seek out ways to improve the recovery process, which can be lengthy and uncomfortable. 

This article will cover topics relating to spondylolisthesis surgery recovery, including tips for accelerating the healing process. 

Table of Contents

What Grade of Spondylolisthesis Needs Surgery?

Most spine specialists use a grading system known as Meyerding’s classification of spondylolisthesis to evaluate this spinal condition. According to this system, the grades of spondylolisthesis include:

  • Grade 1: 1% to 25% slippage
  • Grade 2: Up to 50% slippage
  • Grade 3: Between 50% and 75% slippage
  • Grade 4: Greater than 75% slippage

Patients with grade 3 or grade 4 spondylolisthesis typically don’t experience improvement with conservative treatments alone. For these grades of spondylolisthesis, surgery is often required for lasting symptom relief. 

Spondylolisthesis Surgery: An Overview

Spondylolisthesis surgery most often consists of spinal decompression and fusion. Spinal decompression, such as a laminectomy, can alleviate nerve compression caused by spondylolisthesis. Fusion is used to avert spinal instability. 

During a laminectomy, which is a common form of spinal decompression used for spondylolisthesis, the surgeon will first access the affected vertebrae through an incision. If the surgeon opts to use minimally-invasive techniques, they’ll likely use specialized tools including real-time X-ray technology and an operating microscope. 

Once the surgeon has accessed the spine, they can remove some or all of the lamina to alleviate nerve impingement. This is the piece of bone that covers the back of the spinal canal.

To perform spinal fusion, the surgeon will need to place bone graft material in between the targeted vertebrae. This will stimulate the fusing of the vertebrae over the course of several months. Once this process is complete, the vertebrae will be permanently fused, with all motion eliminated at that spinal segment. 

How Long Does Spondylolisthesis Surgery Take?

The length of time that spondylolisthesis surgery takes to complete depends on the surgical approach. Minimally-invasive spine surgery, which involves a smaller incision, is typically shorter than traditional spine surgery. 

Traditional spinal fusion surgery can span between two and seven hours, depending on various factors. In most cases, this procedure takes approximately four hours. 

Minimally-invasive spinal fusion, on the other hand, typically only takes one to two hours. However, if it involves two spinal levels, it may take around three hours. 

Your spine surgeon can provide a time estimate for the spondylolisthesis procedure that you’ll receive. 

Can I Avoid Spinal Fusion For Spondylolisthesis?

Spinal fusion reduces patients’ mobility and can lead to the degeneration of adjacent spinal segments. Known as adjacent segment disease, or ASD, this occurs because the neighboring segments must bear added impact to compensate for the fused vertebrae. 

With these and other downsides, spondylolisthesis patients would often prefer to avoid spinal fusion altogether. Thanks to advancements in medical technology, spinal fusion alternatives are now available to patients. 

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One option is the TOPS System, which is a unique non-fusion mechanical implant device for lumbar spondylolisthesis and spinal stenosis. It’s secured to the affected vertebrae to provide stability with a controlled range of motion. 

What Are Pre-Spondylolisthesis Surgery Preparation Steps?

To prepare for spondylolisthesis surgery, you’ll need to organize your home, talk to your loved ones, and follow all of your physician’s instructions. Here are our top tips:

  • Talk to your physician about all of the medications that you’re currently taking, including supplements. You may need to stop taking some or all of these medications leading up to the surgery. 
  • Check how long before the surgery you’ll need to stop eating and drinking. Generally, patients must stop eating six hours before surgery and stop drinking fluids two hours before surgery. 
  • Reach out to loved ones to ask for assistance in the first few days after the surgery. Additionally, you’ll need to have someone pick you up from the hospital and drive you home after the procedure. 
  • Consider stocking up on prepared food before the procedure. Patients generally can’t spend prolonged periods cooking after the surgery, so prepared meals can simplify your recovery process. 
  • Invest in tools that can facilitate your healing process, such as slip-on shoes, a reacher or grabber tool, and a toilet riser. These tools can help you avoid straining your spine as you recover from the surgery. 
  • Place essentials, such as dishes, toiletries, and clothes, on easy-to-reach surfaces. 

Steps to Recover Faster From Spondylolisthesis Surgery

With a few simple tips, you can recover faster from spondylolisthesis surgery. 

  1. Quit smoking. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it causes blood vessel constriction. Smoking during your recovery process will decrease the flow of oxygen and healing nutrients throughout your body. 
  2. Get moving. While you need to follow your spine surgeon’s safety guidelines, gentle movement is beneficial for healing after spondylolisthesis surgery. Work with a physical therapist to learn targeted exercises that will improve muscle strength and mobility. 
  3. Hydrate and eat a healthy diet. Fueling your body properly will support your body’s recovery process. 
  4. Set up your home for success. As we mentioned in the previous section, prepping your home to limit bending and reaching motions will support the early stage of spine surgery recovery. 
  5. Follow all of your surgeon’s wound care instructions to prevent infection. 

Does Spondylolisthesis Go Away After Surgery?

The goal of spondylolisthesis surgery is to resolve the misaligned vertebrae through spinal decompression and stabilization. So, if the surgery is successful, it should resolve your symptoms. 

Spondylolisthesis surgery is typically successful. The latest non-fusion spine devices and minimally-invasive surgical techniques can further reduce the risks associated with the procedure. 

To learn if you’re a good candidate for spondylolisthesis surgery, contact a qualified spine specialist in your area.