3 Helpful Do’s And Don’ts Of Spondylolisthesis Exercise

Spondylolisthesis Exercise Do's And Don'ts

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Over the years I have come to learn several mistakes, errors, misunderstandings, myths, lies and false information when it comes to exercises for spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis.

I have noticed many of these working as a strength coach and helping others who have suffered from spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis. I have also (unfortunately) learned many of them the hard way in my own personal battle growing up with spondylolisthesis.

Whether you search the web reading about certain exercises that claim to fix everything or you take tips from a buddy at the gym, it is important to realize that there are a few things you should watch out for if you have a spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis.

The internet can provide a wealth of information and help when it comes to moving and feeling better, but then again it can provide a world of hurt and pain for those who do no know what to look for.

In your search for increasing your knowledge about spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis exercises pay attention to these 3 do’s and don’ts for a painfree recovery.

1. Do Seek A Full Body Screen Before Determining Proper Exercise. 

    Don’t Just Guess.

One thing that most people misunderstand when it comes to improving how they move and feel is that everyone is different.

Even though you may have a spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis that others may have, the cause of the spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis pain may stem from a multitude of different sources.

Common suggestions are to “strengthen the core” or “stretch the hamstrings” to improve your weaknesses, but for those with movement issues or nueromuscular timing issues these simple suggestions could make your pain worse!

Believe it or not, you may NOT have a weak core or tight hamstrings.

Your pain may be stemming from poor ankle range of motion or perhaps you have poor stability and range of motion in your hips.

The point is just because you have a spondy does not mean you have “a weak core” or “tight hamstrings”. The only way to determine what your weaknesses are is to get a full body screen or analysis of your movement by a certified professional. Then you can narrow down what exercises to work on to target your weaknesses and improve movement and ultimately how you feel.

Those who randomly guess at exercises may get lucky every now and then, but in the long run they could be doing more harm than good.

This is the main reason we ALWAYS suggest seeking medical or professional opinions before trying any of our sample exercises or stretches. Becaues these exercises and stretches were not designed for everybody.

As we have stated so often on our site, each spondy person may have a different path to follow when it comes to improving upon how they feel.

A simple analogy that may hit this point home is to compare your spondy to a sickness with severe symptoms. Let’s say you have a high fever, coughing and upset stomach.

Let’s also pretend these symptoms last for days and you continue to get worse.

Would you just google the internet for cures of your symptoms? Randomly popping pills and over the counter medicine?

Or would you go see a doctor to determine exactly what the cause of your symptoms are and get some guidance on how to alleviate the symptoms?

Hopefully you would see a doctor because just guessing could be fatal.  You should treat your spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis the same way.

Although not fatal, the pain at times can feel like it.

Take advantage of our Spondy Toolbox page which provides some great links to certain screening protocols that we use and recommend.

The links will help you to find a professional in your area that is certified and can provide you with a screen to get on the fast track to finding the exercises that work best for you!

2. Do Start With Controlled, Progressive Exercises.

    Don’t Start With The Hardest Exercises.

I feel victim to this tip at first. I am competitive and always want to do the hardest, most difficult thing thinking it will speed up my recovery…..

WRONG!

For most of us who suffer from spondy pain we also are victims of poor movement. We may have restrictions, tightness, weakness,  and instabilities in certain areas that require work to keep the body moving correctly.

When we perform certain movements (especially those that require the use of our “weak” areas) compensations may occur because the body tries its best to perform these movements by using the help of areas above, below, behind or in front of the area that is designed to do the work. Because of this stressors may end up being applied to areas that are not meant to handle them…… Pain can soon follow.

The harder the exercise the more movement, motor control, nueromuscular timing, and strength the body requires. And many of us do not have the adequate amount of one or all of these.

spondylolisthesis exercise

For someone who can not even demonstrate proper stability on their own, it dosen’t make much sense for them to hop on an unstable surface for an exercise.

Avoid this issue head on and start easy and build up the difficulty of the exercise progressively. Suck up the ego and think long term.

This is another reason random internet exercises are not a good idea for those with spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis. They may be fine for others because they have mastered the movement of the exercise. But for us the exercise may lead to a world of hurt due to our movement issues.

Be smart and safe and start easy!

2. Do Focus On All Areas Of Exercise.

    Don’t Just Focus On One.

Hopefully after you get screened or assessed you will have an idea on areas of weakness that need improvement.

Whether you need to work on mobility, stability, flexibility or strength it is important to improve all these areas as a whole. A good spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis exercise program or rehab program includes all of these areas and improves them with certain exercises, stretches, and drills.

I have also fallen victim to only focusing on certain body parts or areas of personal physical weakness. Bad things can happen when you spend so much time only working on one thing or one area.

Plus, as you improve and get better your weaknesses can change as well.

What you needed to improve on yesterday may not be what you need today. And what you need today may not be what you need tomorrow. The body is always adapting and changing and it is important to stay on top of this by NOT focusing on just one area of exercise(s).

Kozzi-past-present-and-future-sign-461 X 281

Your spondylolisthesis exercise needs are always changing.

The human body is designed to work and operate as a whole. When you walk, run or move you do not do it one body part at a time. The body works as a collective unit and operates at its best this way.

To only stretch your hamstrings or perform sit ups will do very little in improving how feel. Make sure you perform all the aspects of movement and do not just focus on one thing. You will certainly feel the difference.

There you have it.

Three simple and helpful do’s and don’ts of spondylolisthesis exercise that I have picked up through the years.

I would love to hear your comments or hear if you have any special do’s or don’ts that you feel are helpful. Simply chime in below to share your story.

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Leave A Reply (19 comments so far)


  1. David
    4 years ago

    Thank you for your very concise and right on advice!
    I have been a spondy (I like that term 🙂 for more than 20 years. I have managed to keep it under control pretty well for the most part, via exercise, proper posture and good body mechanics. However, I moved to rural Cambodia (I am a development worker) in 2006 and found myself unable to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle that included a general active lifestyle and being able to keep a regular exercise routine. I got so desperate for some cardio workout that I started walking up steep, 1,000 year old stone stairs to a Angkor era mountain top temple every night after work. The stairs are uneven, hard as rocks (because they are rocks :-), and required large steps to climb and very uneven movements to get down. To make a long story short, I severely damaged my back and probably did about 10 years’ worth of slippage damage in the course of a couple of months.
    Moral of the story? Be VERY, VERY careful about the exercises you do when you are a spondy!


    • Spondy
      4 years ago

      David,
      What an amazing story! I am sad to hear about the return of your spondy pain, but amazed of your travels and adventures. Spondy’s can affect people all over the world and it is important to understand what the cause of flare ups are and how to avoid them. Your story gives me an idea of perhaps a few bodyweight exercises that could be performed anywhere to help out those with spondy’s. Stay in touch with the site for updates. Best of luck in your journey!


  2. ontheflipside88
    4 years ago

    I just found out a few days ago that im a spondy (I like the term too 🙂 ). Sports were my life untill I was 16 when I had brain surgery to phenistrate a cyst. A year later non sport freak accident caused a torn meniscus in my knee. Over a 5 year period I had 2 more knee surgeries. I was just getting fit again over the last year now and I find out I have spondy. Im just wondering if I can be fit again with spondy or if this is the last straw in my injurys. The gym is the last sport I have and im realky hoping not to loose it. Plz dont take this as complaining. Ive been fighting for almost 10 years noe and im not giving up. Im just hoping someone hear can maybe telk me how its affected their life? My doctor has me in a backbacr


    • Spondy
      4 years ago

      Thanks for finding the site. Hopefully all of the information on this site will help you to better understand your situation. I encourage you to download and read the beginner’s guide along with watching the video series (both are free) to get a better understanding of your spondy. It sounds like you have been through a ton at a young age and hopefully this spondy is just small bump in your road. Along with having a spondy I also suffered a serious knee injury that required surgery at a young age. I currently love to work out and do so consistently. Working out in the past was such a challenge due to the pain my spondy provided. But the key to working out with a spondy is making sure you have a sound foundation of movement to begin with. When I was working out with poor movement, it only made things worse.

      Unfortunately I am not in position to tell you if it is the last straw in your injuries (not all spondy’s are the same and everyone is different). But for most, poor movement is present when they have spondy’s. You may hit the gym, perform some exercises and go on with your day. But if poor movement is present and you go through these exercises you may be adding stress to your spine. Over time that stress could turn into a fracture and spondy. If you want to continue working out I would highly recommend finding a rehab professional to administer a movement screen(see our spondy toolbox page for more info), use these results to come up with a sound rehab program and communicate with your rehab professional. Listen to your doctor and make sure to learn as much as you can about this condition. Also, make sure to read the site as we have tons of articles, videos and information that is sure to answer some of the questions you may have. You can also reach out to us anytime with questions or feedback. Best of luck and don’t get down. I have worked with several spondy sufferers who have been able to enjoy the activities they love.


  3. Ryan
    4 years ago

    Hi, for started thanks for all the advice!

    im just a bit curious where you stated..

    ‘the cause of the spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis pain may stem from a multitude of different sources’

    and you then went on to talk about tight hamstrings and weak core, i think that is my problem but i am not sure, this is what my CT report stated if you could help in any way possible?

    ‘”Grade 1 L5/S1 spondylolisthesis with a small disc bulge, disc space, narrowing and elongated exit foramina which are also narrowed. There is a probable impingement upon exiting L5 roots bilaterally. Bilateral pars defects at the L5 level. Bone separation of approximately 9mm on right and left sides. No evidence of any attempted healing”‘

    Been told by my physio i can get back in to the gym just no lifting above the head whatsoever, bicep curls against a wall, chest press with feet up etc.

    Thanks a lot in advance!


    • Spondy
      4 years ago

      Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for finding the site. Unfortunately, there is not much I can do by just reading your CT report. There are so many other things involved that would be necessary to include in any kind of attempt at providing some insight. Things such as your personal movement, your weaknesses, tightness’s, mobility and stability issues, injury history, etc etc all make providing insight by CT only very difficult.

      As far as your question goes regarding my statement “may stem from a multitude of different sources”. I was referring to a mistake that many people make when they are diagnosed. Often times people assume they have tight hamstrings or core issues without being looked at by any type of movement screen. People tend to group all spondy’s into one group and sometimes they think what fixes one persons issues will fix every spondy’s issues.

      However, a very important and often overlooked piece of advice is to make sure each person that is diagnosed gets some kind of full body movement screen by a professional to help determine what personal issues they may have and how they can fix them. Fixing these movement issues may just help to reduce some of the stress that is placed on the injured area.

      For example. Spondy’s have various grades and various types. You combine this with the various types of people (injury history, current activity levels, physical strengths and weaknesses, etc) and you get so many different situations where the actual cause of the spondy or spondy pain varies.

      I encourage you to keep reading the site, following the newsletter and improving your spondy knowledge. These two articles will help you better understand my points mentioned above: http://spondyinfo.com/how-poor-movement-can-affect-your-spondy-and-how-to-fix-it/

      and this one:http://spondyinfo.com/not-all-spondys-are-the-same/

      I hope this helps and stay in touch with your progress or any questions along the way!


  4. Cindi Garrett
    3 years ago

    I didn’t know that one of the exercises when you have spondylisthesis was being able to bend over toward the floor.


    • SpondyInfo
      3 years ago

      Hi Cindi. I believe you are referring to one of the movements that we described as a simple test to help determine if your body is having problems with fundamental movement. This is not necessarily an exercise, but more of a movement that many rehab specialist use to determine if current issues are present with movement. If you are having pains or discomforts with simply bending over to touch your toes then you have some issues that should be addressed before starting exercises or stretches. Most of the movements, stretches and exercises that you find on our site help to address certain issues with movement. NOT pain that may be coming from a spondy. If you have movement issues present, there is a good possibility that they are affecting how you move and feel and perhaps even your spondy. I encourage you to read our FREE guide and many of the blog posts on the site to understand this concept further. Best of luck!


  5. Anne Drysdale
    2 years ago

    Hi, i came across your website today and feel it is the most helpful I have found for this condition. I was diagnosed 7 weeks ago when I had an MRI for severe sciatica. The cause of the sciatica was due to a synovial cyst attached to and compressing the sciatic nerve at L4/L5 and I had an operation to remove the cyst 6 weeks ago. However, at my follow up examination my neurosurgeon emphasised to me that I also have grade 1 spondylolisthesis at L5/S1 caused by degenerative arthritis (I am 62 years of age). I am seeing a physiotherapist next week but am so glad to have found your website as it is invaluable to receive advice from fellow sufferers. I work in an office and sit at a desk for 7-8 hours a day and will now make sure that I utilise the online stopwatch suggested by you to remind me to get up and move around every 20 mins or so. Thank you.


    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      Hi Anne. First of all thanks for finding the site and secondly thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like you took a big first step and took the initiative to seek physiotherapy. Thats a great start. I encourage you to look around the site and learn as much as you can about your body and your condition. Also, make sure to read through the comments below each article to read up on all of the questions readers have asked in combination with our answers. Sitting is such a big enemy of spondy’s, so anything you can do to combat the long hours spend behind a desk can be a big helper. Best of best of luck moving forward and feel free to ask us questions along the way!


  6. maroof
    2 years ago

    Dear Sir
    i suffered a slip in wash room last year and got grade 1 spondy L5S1.I have lot of back pain and right leg weakness.would like to know exercises or should i go for fusion


    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      Hi Maroof. Sorry to hear about your fall. An answer to your question is much more complicated than providing you with a straightforward response. One of the many reasons is the multiple factors that would sway your decision one way or the other. Factors such as age, injury history, movement quality, type of spondy, other back conditions, etc. all would factor into this kind of decision and even what kind of exercises you should try. My recommendation is to soak up the information on our website and learn as much as you can about movement and the role it plays in your spondy. You can then seek out a movement screen by a certified professional to help you get started. I would suggest beginning with this blog post:http://spondyinfo.com/how-poor-movement-can-affect-your-spondy-and-how-to-fix-it/
      Hope this helps!


  7. Anthony
    1 year ago

    Dear sir, I was diagnosed with an anterolysthesis of my L4 to L5 i am 26 years old and went from being a lazy, sit-around teen to a very active and athletic one. I then went on to be a landscaper and have worked in that profession for nearly 7 years, needless to say I won’t be doing that anymore as my specialty was in the brick laying and wall building field. I’ve talk to an orthopedic surgeon, been treated by chiropractors and been doing physical therapy at home but still pain persists. Can my L4 slip further forward towards my abdomen just from sitting in the wrong posture, whether the posture is too forward or too backwards? I’ve also been reading up on muscular conditions that may have been a pretense for this disorder that no doctor seems to understand or care to treat. I have a weak lower body and suspect that my hamstrings, glutes and lower back muscles have been overstretched and now are just full of knots from overactivity, improper diet, and chronic smoking. That fact, coupled with a fracture in my pars interarticularis that connects the two vertebrae have caused this slippage. I’ve been working my legs as hard as I can but also giving them rest as needed I feel so helpless because I used to be able to push myself to get to the point I wanted to be at and now if I don’t fully concentrate on proper body mechanics at all times or try to lift something too heavy the pain can be more than disconcerting. No one seems to understand what I’m struggling with physically and emotionally. I read that when knots form in muscles it shuts them down and while pain is in the body, the body tries harder and harder to shut down the area of muscles in pain which leads to reduced efficiency of muscle growth. If this is true then I’ve got a long road ahead of me and patience and focus will be my main priorities. Any feedback you have to offer me would be well appreciated having found your page very helpful. I’m going to request a movement assessment at my earliest opportunity but I always move differently when I’m being watched so I don’t know what the future holds.


    • SpondyInfo
      1 year ago

      Thanks for sharing your story Anthony. It sounds like you have a solid base of knowledge about this condition and your body which is a good start when it comes to improving how you move and feel. As far as additional slippage goes this is always a possibility. Although I do not know for sure if bad posture alone can lead to additional slippage. Some of the most common causes of additional slippage are blunt forces such as falls or crashes and deterioration of the affected area most commonly caused by osteoporosis or degenerative conditions. This is not to say your example would not cause additional slippage, its just that a doctor would be in a much more accurate position to answer this for your specific case due to their ability to assess you physically and look at your imaging to diagnose.

      I understand your frustration when it comes to not finding anyone who understands. Its the exact reason why I created this site. I wanted to provide people with a platform to share their stories and fears with others who are going through the same thing. I was sick and tired of the negative and scared posts I read about online. I wanted to show people improvement IS possible. So read through the site, read through the reader comments and post your thoughts where ever you would like.

      I would also encourage you to seek out that movement screen ASAP. Especially if you feel muscle knots are prevalent throughout your legs. It is possible you have a few movement issues going on that are leading to over used and over stressed areas of your legs. Whenever you “focus” on an are and attempt to strengthen it, it is very important to have a solid quality of movement present. If not, compensations can lead to further issues down the road. Do not worry about being watched and altering your movement. The professional is trained to watch your body move and this will be no problem for them.

      I encourage you to share your story along the way for others to follow. You can do so by posting on the site or by shooting me updates every now and then. There is nothing better than hearing about others improve!

      Thanks for posting and best of luck!


  8. Martin Brait
    1 year ago

    I was diagnosed with spondolothesis a few years ago
    I have done PT as well home exercises
    The frustrating thing is i can play 1-1/12 hrs of tennis with little problem
    However after I walk 1-2 blocks I have discomfort and have to sit and stretch
    I have no problems sitting or while sleeping.mimcan’t describe my symptoms but
    As pain but rather discomfort.
    I am thinking of using walking sticks while walking on either sidewalks or flat terrain
    Any comment


    • SpondyInfo
      1 year ago

      Hi Martin.

      I find it interesting you can play tennis, but have discomfort walking. Tennis is a pretty intense sport with a ton of quick, explosive movements. The question you need to address is “why”. Why are you getting discomfort with a walk and not tennis? What is your body doing during a walk that is leading to this?

      One of the best ways to go about this is having your bodies overall movement assessed by a professional (board certified physical therapist, etc). Perhaps your walking gait is off, maybe you have restricted movement in certain areas such as you hips. Perhaps you have poor hip and core stability, etc. There could be a number of reasons for this and the only way to really figure it out is to get assessed. I encourage you to read this article as I explain this in more detail: http://spondyinfo.com/how-poor-movement-can-affect-your-spondy-and-how-to-fix-it/

      I hope it helps and gives you some direction….Thanks!


  9. preetam
    5 months ago

    I have grade 1 spondylolisthesis. Can I cycle with this condition, I am concerned about my weight , so I don’t know if I should continue cycling. Should I reduce my seat height , or should I completely avoid cycling


    • SpondyInfo
      5 months ago

      Hi Preetam.

      This really depends on your personal weaknesses, past injury history, and so many other factors that I do not know. Unfortunately, because of these unknown various factors, I can’t accurately give you an answer. My recommendation would be to speak to a professional who can assess these factors and determine if cycling is o.k. for you. If you are in an area or situation where finding qualified help is difficult, make sure you listen to your body. How do you feel after cycling? How do you feel a day or two after cycling? Often times your body will provide you with the answers to many of the questions you have. However, your first and foremost goal should be to find someone who can address your body as a whole and help you come to a answer. Best of luck!

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