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Old 02-20-2013, 12:03 PM   #1
Nathan Etre
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Exclamation Need Information Regarding Spondylolisthesis and Training

Hello Everyone,

I recently started experiencing sciatica down my right leg, with tingling in my right foot. The only relief from pain is sitting in a chair or squatting down. I originally thought it was due to a tight piriformis muscle, but after repeated stretching and rest with no results, I went and got an X-ray on the area along with my spine. Here are the results:

Grade 3 Spondylolisthesis of L5-S1

Bilateral Spondylolysis of L5

Degenerative disk disease of L5-S1

I understand that a grade 3 is a pretty significant amount of vertebral slippage. I have been told by my regular doctor as well as a chiropractor that it is something that needs to be seriously addressed, and that my days of lifting and CrossFit are basically over. They say any movement involving extension of the spine is out of the question, which is basically 90% of CrossFit movements. However, neither of them really understand CrossFit so it is hard to take their suggestions seriously. I am currently trying to make an appointment with a neurosurgeon just to get their suggestions as well. I am a competitive athlete who went to the Games last year on team, and I don't wish to have my days of competition behind me. The doctors say I am too young (21) to have this type of degeneration and they blame it on the lifting I have been doing. I don't deny that, but I also don't think I need to completely walk away from the sport either.

I am looking for any information from people with similar problems, or from doctors, chiropractors, or other specialists who understand CrossFit. Do I really need to stop my level of activity completely? What are your suggestions for therapy? Is surgery necessary? I am desperate for reliable information at this point, and am very frustrated with hearing people tell me I am done. However, if this is the case I will be realistic and listen.

Thank you for your time!
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Old 02-28-2013, 10:51 AM   #2
Andrew G. Greenberg
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Re: Need Information Regarding Spondylolisthesis and Training

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nathan Etre View Post
Hello Everyone,

I recently started experiencing sciatica down my right leg, with tingling in my right foot. The only relief from pain is sitting in a chair or squatting down. I originally thought it was due to a tight piriformis muscle, but after repeated stretching and rest with no results, I went and got an X-ray on the area along with my spine. Here are the results:

Grade 3 Spondylolisthesis of L5-S1

Bilateral Spondylolysis of L5

Degenerative disk disease of L5-S1

I understand that a grade 3 is a pretty significant amount of vertebral slippage. I have been told by my regular doctor as well as a chiropractor that it is something that needs to be seriously addressed, and that my days of lifting and CrossFit are basically over. They say any movement involving extension of the spine is out of the question, which is basically 90% of CrossFit movements. However, neither of them really understand CrossFit so it is hard to take their suggestions seriously. I am currently trying to make an appointment with a neurosurgeon just to get their suggestions as well. I am a competitive athlete who went to the Games last year on team, and I don't wish to have my days of competition behind me. The doctors say I am too young (21) to have this type of degeneration and they blame it on the lifting I have been doing. I don't deny that, but I also don't think I need to completely walk away from the sport either.

I am looking for any information from people with similar problems, or from doctors, chiropractors, or other specialists who understand CrossFit. Do I really need to stop my level of activity completely? What are your suggestions for therapy? Is surgery necessary? I am desperate for reliable information at this point, and am very frustrated with hearing people tell me I am done. However, if this is the case I will be realistic and listen.

Thank you for your time!
Have you tried talking to an orthopedic surgeon about this problem? That would be the best source of reliable information about your condition.
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Old 10-04-2013, 09:39 AM   #3
Mauricio Leal
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Re: Need Information Regarding Spondylolisthesis and Training

Hey Nathan,

I was just diagnosed with the same thing, only grade 1 though... However mine has been there for over a decade (since HS football) and is just showing symptoms (piriformis syndrome) now. Chiro says I'm basically done as well, now I'm dealing with insurance trying to find an ortho and physical therapist to see if there's any way to deal with/beat this thing. I don't even know what to do with myself, CrossFit is a huge part of my life as I'm sure it is for you also. Any news on how you have progressed since your original post in February? Thanks and good luck man.
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Old 10-04-2013, 11:24 AM   #4
Brian Strump
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Re: Need Information Regarding Spondylolisthesis and Training

Grade 3 is pretty significant. To say it's from the lifting you're doing may not be the case. So have a genetic component.

Perhaps a career as a power lifter, but find it hard to believe lifting to be the only cause at such a young age.

With the radiating symptoms, a 1st, 2nd and 3rd opinions of a few surgeons would be a good starting point. Surgery does not have to be the only option, but at your age, and given condition; you can have many more years ahead(athletically speaking) of you if taken care of correctly.
Or, crippling if you disregard it.
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Old 10-10-2013, 01:57 PM   #5
Mauricio Leal
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Re: Need Information Regarding Spondylolisthesis and Training

Just to update for myself I did consult a second Chiro/PT who is confident that my grade 1 spondy is not the cause of the hip pain, and moreso related to the overemphasis of sagittal movement in CF plus loads of volume. So, lateral band work to strengthen glute medius (IIRC), ART and lots of lax ball work on the pirformis. Seems to be working over the few days (hip feels more stable and pain-free after band work) and back to training pretty regularly, though still not out of the woods just yet.

She also said it's really the movements that require a lot of back extension (ghd sit-ups) or have a tendency to fault into extension (heavy push jerks) that are more a cause for concern with a spondy, although a catastrophic injury is unlikely, you would just see increased symptoms (radiating/shooting pain down to feet).

I noticed Nathan was able to compete in the 2013 Open and his Regional Team so hopefully he's finding a way around it... please update if you see this man.
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Old 11-23-2013, 12:00 AM   #6
Nathan Etre
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Re: Need Information Regarding Spondylolisthesis and Training

Hey All. Thanks so much for responding to this. For some reason, I never got notified via email that anyone had replied to my post. I thought it had just gotten lost in the mix of things!

Mauricio, yes, I was able to compete in the Open and Regionals. It was awesome to get back to Regionals a second year in a row. I had gone to see a nuerosurgeon in late February. He told me that what I had was not caused by lifting weights, and was probably something I've had my entire life. He said that if, my back was going to get worse, IF, it would happen whether I was sitting on my *** doing nothing or if I was being active. He encouraged me to continue being active, and to just avoid exercises that aggrivated my symptoms. I was given an oral steriod for a week. Symptoms seemed to dissapate, and I felt good enough to try and compete in the Open. I hadn't trained anything heavy for 2 months at that point, so jumping into 12.1 with all those snatches probably wasn't the best thing. I continued to be cautious with my training, but was still doing exercises that I probably shouldnt have been doing. However, after qualifying for Regionals as a team, I was too excited to really listen to my body.

I trained hard through Regionals and all this past summer. Early 2013 fall was going great. I had gained all my strength back and was finally starting to PR my lifts again, something that hadn't happened since the previous 2012 fall. I was following the Smolov squat program, and was seeing massive gains in all my oly lifts and power movements. I competed in the Milford Team Throwdown at the end of October. It was an awesome weekend, but many of the workouts involved hyperextension of some degree. To say the least, it took a whole lot out of me.

I took the next week completely off, only coming to the gym to coach. During that week of rest, my symptoms started getting pretty bad. The sciatica down my right leg was pretty intense at times, and my foot would sometimes go completely numb. It made me really start to contemplate what I was doing. My dad, who is a physical therapist himself, put it into perspective. He said if I am waking up in pain every day now at only 22, then what am I going to feel like when Im 50? It made everything change for me, and I really had to make a tough decision.

As of the begining of November, I decided not to train as a competitior anymore. Everything I do in the gym is not very scaled back. I don't oly lift anymore, or squat heavily. I am able to scale most movements, but the mental aspect knowing that I won't compete or be able to PR my snatch or squat ever again has been hard to deal with. I am trying to put my future focus on coaching, in hopes of preventing in other folks what has happened to me.

Sorry for the long post, just wanted to update you on what has gone on. In the long run, we do CrossFit for longevity, and that is what I have to tell myself every day now.
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Old 11-23-2013, 02:52 PM   #7
Glenn Plomchok
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Re: Need Information Regarding Spondylolisthesis and Training

Sorry to hear about this Nathan. Being 45 and dealing with a pretty major disc issue I understand your comments concerning the competition level approach to CF. I don't know if I'll get back to where I was...most likely not the heavy squats and lifts but we'll see. I have progressed well over the past 4 months but still have a ways to go to see where I will end up.

Hope everything works out well for you moving forward
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Old 12-17-2013, 02:39 PM   #8
Ari Sherwood
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Re: Need Information Regarding Spondylolisthesis and Training

Thanks for sharing the story, Nathan, especially for those of us going through similar paths.

BTW - have you discussed surgical options with a doc? According to what I've been told by one (and have read), single level fusion @L5-S1 has very high success rate for leg pain due to spondy (less so for back pain). Obviously it's a significant surgery with a not so short recovery, but long term could be a good option if you want to go back to training hard, especially at 22. That being said, your father's advice also rings true.

Be well and good luck.
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