Spondylolisthesis Exercises

Spondylolisthesis MRI

Spondylolisthesis means one or more vertebrae have slipped out of their normal position

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

Spondylolisthesis Exercise Start

Exercise Final Position

Spondylolisthesis Exercise End


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.


Filed Under: Back Pain, Slipped Disc, SpondylolisthesisJesse Cannone
Written By: May 3,2012

12 thoughts on “Spondylolisthesis Exercises”

  1. steve grier says:

    Good day, I have gone through it all. because of a caution to the wind live style when I was younger I now have had three surgeries in the past four years, one cevical and two lumbar fusion. Also I suffer from nerve damage on my left side, trouble walking and much pain. I strecth, light weight traning, treadmil cardio, as much as my body will let me and I can find no reliefe with every thing I do. My doctors say I am in a black hole and live with it. I am every day looking for help on the internet, it seems every one has a fix all cure, how do you find the right, fix it or my doctors correct, there is no fix it. Thanks Steve Grier

  2. Admin says:

    Hi Steve,

    Thank you for your comment. The solution part will come from Education, and one educational suggestion we can give you is our new book, Here is the link for you:-


    Thank you

  3. Jan Levin says:

    I have spondylolisthesis. Also bad pain down my left leg which will not bear my weight going upstairs and up steps. I have had quite a lot of physio – do exercises – orthopaedic surgeon – MRI – advised to have physio (his one did not work) then offered epidural injection by his anaesthetist, or cortizone injection. I rejected both as being short-term solution. Latest physio has helped a bit but had a set-back in the gym with a bad stretch and now I am taking Neurofen which helps a bit. Looking at the exercises online as well as the excellent ones given by my physio. Know that it is degenerative and that the right exercises are the only way forward.

  4. John says:

    I was diagnosed with grade 1 spondy, stenosis, and degenerative disc L4, L5. Just like you I could not walk up stairs without a sharp pain in my lower left back which shot down my leg. I would need to walk hunched over just to get some relief. I tried McKenzie style PT which only made the pain worse. I did get some relief with epidural injections, but the relief was only temporary. I am pain free today because of one of two things I tried, or maybe the combination of them both. I went thru spinal decompression treatment for 30 minutes a day for 30 days. (word of advice, don’t let the chiropractor perform spinal manipulation on you while going thru decompression. It doesn’t help, it just creates unnecessary pain). After the 30 days I went to a physical therapist that specializes in spinal cord injuries. It took a while to figure out which exercises worked for my condition. At first I felt like an old man doing some very simple exercises. but in the long run it seems to have worked. Today I continue with those exercises at home and feel 99% better.

    1. bonnie says:

      Can I please ask what are the exercises that helped you to feel so much better. Thanks

  5. Admin says:

    Hi Bonnie,

    We would like to help. Please do get yourself a copy of our free back pain book The 7 Day Back Pain Cure. It has a lot of information regarding the back, treatment options and pain relief plus many other useful aspects for you to read and consider. We do hope you find it helpful.


    You may also wish to consider our Lose The Back Pain system. It is based on Muscle Balance Therapy, stretching and strengthening exercises. All the details about it can be found in the link below.


    Thank you
    (The Healthy Back Institute)

  6. Patrick Movsessian says:

    Certain chiropractic adjustments involve twisting the person’s back during the adjustment or through direct downward pressure on the spine to achieve the adjustment. This could potentially worsen the Spondylolisthesis
    Patrick Movsessian

  7. Chris says:

    I’m a chiropractor, we see these all the time, you need to make sure that the chiropractor you see takes x-rays, then they will adjust properly from there, it’s very effective, exercises also help a great deal

  8. Christian Lind says:

    Interesting. My chiropractor said my back was hurting because of a tilted pelvis. My pain kept getting worse after every visit at the chiropractor. An x-ray showed i have a Spondylolisthesis. The adjustments must have made the spondy worse.

  9. Nikki says:

    Same here! So frustrating!!

  10. Melinda says:

    I have grade 3 spondolylotheis and go to the chiropractor with good relief but it is limited. Helps for a a few days to a few weeks then th he back us out again. I can hardly walk some days and am beginning to have no feeling in my feet. The numbness use to be intermittent but now it’s all the time. Hope theses exercises work cause I’ve been calling surgeons the past few weeks.

  11. Admin says:

    Hi Melinda,
    Thank you for your comment. We would like to suggest you get yourself a copy of our free back pain book -The 7 Day Back Pain Cure which has suggestions and information regarding pain relief methods, different treatment options, information and other useful aspects to help. You can find out more via the link below


    Thank you
    Admin (The Healthy Back Institute)

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