Spondylolisthesis (“spon-dee-low-lis-thee-sis”) is a big fancy word that simply means a vertebra in your spine has slipped out of position.
It sounds like a pretty extreme condition. And spondylolisthesis can be the source of severe back pain, usually in the lower back.
But just like herniated discs, you may have the condition and never know it. In fact, five percent of adults have spondylolisthesis yet only 10-15% of those experience any symptoms!
That’s the good news.
The bad news is ignoring it altogether may lead to excessive curvature of your spine (lordosis) or even roundback (kyphosis) as your upper spine literally falls off your lower spine causing breathing difficulties, chronic back pain and possibly permanent nerve damage.
Fortunately, there are simple exercises and other actions you can take to prevent progression or even help recover from spondylolisthesis…
Spondylolisthesis Causes & Diagnosis
In children, most cases of spondylolisthesis are caused by either a birth defect or some type of impact injury, like when playing sports. This usually appears between the sacrum and the bottom fifth vertebra of the lumbar spine.
Spondylolisthesis in adults though is most commonly the result of spinal degeneration such as arthritis. Most adults experience the condition slightly higher than children, between the fourth and fifth vertebrae of the lumbar spine.
Confirmed by an X-ray, CT Scan or MRI, your doctor will often start with a simple back extension exercise (leaning back) to begin diagnosing spondylolisthesis. Those with a troublesome condition will usually experience some amount of pain when leaning backwards.
Natural Spondylolisthesis Treatments
Most doctors will advise taking it easy when having a back pain flare-up related to spondylolisthesis. This is good advice, but understand this doesn’t mean complete bed rest.
But from there some will move into questionable territory like anti-inflammatory pain pills (NSAIDs), steroid injections and decompressive laminectomy or spinal fusion surgeries.
The truth is most people with Grade I or Grade II spondylolisthesis (slippage less than 50%) get excellent results by simply improving their flexibility and muscle strength, using natural anti-inflammatories and non-surgical decompression.
In a moment I’ll show you a great spondylolisthesis exercise you can do right now to help stabilize your spine. But first, let me share some natural alternatives to NSAIDs, steroid injections and surgery with you.
Natural inflammation-fighting alternatives to dangerous NSAIDs include turmeric, ginger, boswellia and devil’s claw.
One of the best natural anti-inflammatories around is found in abundance throughout your body until your late 20s, called proteolytic enzymes. These natural enzymes not only fight inflammation but also clear toxins and scar-tissue forming fibrin from your circulatory system. But as we age the level of proteolytic enzymes in our bodies drop dramatically unless you supplement with them.
Now let’s think again about that decompressive laminectomy. The idea there is to cut away bone that’s pressing on a nerve.
Why not simply relieve the built-up spinal pressure instead? Relieve that extra pressure and out of place vertebrae and spinal discs may slip back into their proper position on their own.
You can do that easily and safely with either inversion therapy or a Back Ease. Both gently relieve spinal pressure by decompressing your vertebrae. Inversion therapy uses gravity to relieve the pressure while the Back Ease uses your own body weight.
Spondylolisthesis Exercises to Prevent or Relieve Pain
Finally, one of the best ways to prevent or relieve spondylolisthesis pain is to perform exercises to strengthen the muscles that stabilize your spine.
Two of my favorite spondylolisthesis pain exercises are the Plank for strengthening your abs and Bridging for your glutes. They’re also great for other types of back pain. In fact, you can see how to do these in another article I just wrote demonstrating them as exercises for sacroiliac joint pain.
But now I’d like to show you another exercise uniquely suited for spondylolisthesis. Start using this exercise today for help with spondylolisthesis pain.
Standing Arm Exercise for Spondylolisthesis
Step 1 Stand against the wall with your back as flat against the wall as you can. Pull your pelvis backwards to keep your lower back flat against the wall at all times throughout the exercise. Your heels should be about two inches from the wall and remain flat on the floor throughout the exercise.
Step 2 Slowly raise your arms until they are straight in front of you and continue until they are directly overhead with the back of your hands touching the wall with your arms outstretched. Do not allow your back to arch. Your lower back should stay in contact with the wall at all times. If you cannot reach the wall without arching your back, go as far as you can while keeping your lower back in contact with the wall.
Step 3 Once you reach the highest point of the exercise hold the position to your tolerance. You should feel your abs tightening as you hold this position.
Step 4 How many repetitions or sets of repetitions you perform is up to your tolerance. Work towards completing the movement upwards to the wall and holding the top position longer. Repeat this exercise throughout the day rather than all at once.
Variations Moving your feet farther from the wall can make it easier to touch the wall with your hands at the end position of the exercise. As the exercise becomes easier, work towards completing the exercise with your feet closer to the wall.
Exercise Start / Movement
Exercise Final Position
Pediatric Orthopaedic Department. Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis of the Lumbar Spine. Massachusetts General Hospital.
Vorvick L, Ma B. Spondylolisthesis. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. 2010 Jul 28.
Vorvick L, Ma B. Kyphosis. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. 2010 Jul 28.
Cleveland Clinic. Spondylolisthesis. Diseases & Conditions. 2009 Oct 19.