5 Tips For Spondy Athletes

Spondylolisthesis and Sports

Having a spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis can be a deflating and frustrating injury for anyone, but it can be especially tough on those who participate in sports. 

If you think about it, sports consist of a ton of physically demanding activities on the human body.  

At any given time you have twisting, turning, bending, arching and lunging. These movements seem like second nature to the healthy population, but if you have a spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis and are playing sports these movements seem to happen in slow motion with excruciating pain.

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to work with and help multiple athletes who suffered from various forms of spondy’s.  These athletes participated in a variety of different sports and the population ranged from the youth participating in their first practice all the way up to the recreational adult performing the sport they loved and refused to give up on.

I understood the pain these athletes suffered from because I was diagnosed with a spondy at a young age and suffered playing through the sports I loved.  This helped me relate, communicate and guide them through successful training sessions and eventually a return to the sports they loved.

I had no information to read to help me understand my spondy or how to improve upon it. That was a very frustrating and lost feeling. The main purpose of this article is to help shed some light for those that are playing sports and suffering from a spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis.

Hopefully you have taken the time to learn more about your spondy and the different types of spondy’s. If you haven’t, please read this article titled “The Different Types of Spondylolisthesis.  Or better yet, you can download our Free Ebook for even more information.

For many (not everybody) that play sports the most common spondylolisthesis diagnosis is called an isthmic spondylolisthesis.  In simple terms, this occurs when stress is applied to a very small area of the spine called the pars interarticularis.

The loading and physical stress overtime can lead to a reaction that may result in a fracture of this area (spondylolysis). If not taken care of the stress continues to wreak havoc and a slip of the vertebrae can occur (spondylolisthesis).  This is an important reason to seek medical attention if you play sports and have a nagging back injury. The earlier it is diagnosed, the better chance you have of avoiding slippage and further injury.  

So what if you participate in a sport and are experiencing back pain?

What should you do?

What information can help you?

Below are a few tips for those who are in a similar position that I was.



If you are suffering from nagging back pains while playing your sport make sure to seek medical attention immediately.

This may mean you talk to your school therapist or nurse, it may mean you talk to your parents and if you are old enough it means you pick up the phone and give your doctor a call.

It is better to be safe rather than sorry when it comes to spondy’s.

The longer you wait and the longer stress is applied to your spine the worse the injury could get.  If caught early enough the condition can be controlled and managed, if the condition is ignored it could get worse and unfortunately it is not reversible.

Make sure you speak or see a doctor if your pain continues to get worse.



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As hard as it is, it is a MUST to keep a postitive attitude when recovering from your spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis!

Hopefully the visit to the doctor provided you with answers and a path to recovery.

This may include the doctors recommendation of therapy, massage, etc.  It may also include a period of inactivity and if you are a fierce competitor this can drive you absolutely CRAZY!

If you are sidelined, do not panic, get down or feel sorry for yourself. Use this time as a positive and focus on getting better. I was sideline for a lengthy period but used this time to see the sports I loved differently. I learned from the “coaches’ eye” and once I returned it made me a better player and athlete.

Focus on getting your body right. Improve your quality of movement, strength and stability. Follow the lead of your therapist or doctor and improve, but do NOT feel sorry for yourself. This will only make your condition and rehabilitation seem harder and longer than it really is.



This is a big one and one that I never understood as a youngster. 

As mentioned before most sports related to spondy injuries are a cause of repetitive stress to the spine.  This stress may lead to a fracture and eventually slippage if not managed by you with the advice from a doctor.

The cause for this fracture may be the repetitive movements in the sport you play such as hyperextension in gymnastics, dance and football or excessive loading of the spine in weightlifting or in the team weight room at an attempt to get stronger.  

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Sports that involve excessive hyperextension of the low back are a greater risk for spondy’s.

If this is the case you need to think about these movements that are encountered daily and work with your therapist, coach or strength coach to design a program that can help to combat these movements.

This may include a certain movement or strength related exercise that helps to maintain a healthy balance between muscles, soft tissue and ligaments of various areas.  Too much repeated stress to one area without the proper maintenance and balance of opposing muscle groups can lead to big problems.

Make sure to seek professional attention for these exercises or stretches and do not just guess or look on the internet for answers.

Professionals are professionals for a reason.

They are going to be able to take a look and see things physically that you cannot see or do not understand.



An upward trend these days is young athletes starting younger than ever and specializing in one sport.  The days of baseball in the summer, football in the fall and basketball in the winter are slowly dying. These days are replaced by specializing in activites that are closely related to one sport.

This specialization involves hours of practice, games and competition performing the same movements over and over. You may think this is a way to get ahead on the competition, but the attention and focus on one sport at a young age can wreak havoc on the human body.

This is especially noticeable in sports that require a repetitive movement in the same direction. I call these “one-sided” sports.

Think about the golf swing, baseball or softball throw and swing, etc. These sports require the same exact movement hundreds if not thousands of times per week.

youth baseball

Multiple repetitions of the same movement can wreak havoc on certain areas of the body.

A perfect analogy on the havoc this creates on the body is to think about driving your car in 100 circles a day in the same direction at a high rate of speed. After a period of time the tires on your car are going to wear in areas that are taking the stress of that same movement.  Eventually the tires will wear down, pop or explode and affect the frame of the car eventually leading to a complete breakdown of the entire car. Soon your car will not be able to move due to the damage of this same repetitive movement.

Performing the same sporting movement over and over without working on balance can lead to a similar result.

Playing multiple sports as youngsters is one good way to combat these effects.

Another great way is to work on a balanced strength and conditioning program.  Seek a professional who understands this concept and will work with you to develop a program to combat these repetitive movements and create balance within the body. This can reduce the stress that is applied to one area and negate the damage caused by repetitive movements in the same direction.




For those that currently have a spondy and are suffering from pain, setbacks and frustration with failed therapy or training I HIGHLY recommend you seek out a certified individual in the Functional Movement Screen.

You can learn more about this screen along with others on our Spondy Toolbox page.  We even provide a link to visit the Functional Movement Screen website where you can locate a certified individual near you to help you get started with a screen.

This screen is very effective in helping athletes locate or pinpoint areas of asymmetries that could be leading to current discomfort or areas that may play a role in future pain.

Whether you are struggling with back pain during weightlifting, basketball practice or any physical activity, the FMS can help to locate areas that may be contributing to discomfort.

This screen really opened my eyes and helped my own recovery significantly. I also used this on all of the athletes I worked with to find areas that needed attention.

The FMS is used by professional strength coaches in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB. I cannot explain how important a screen is to help the individual working with you to locate movement issues and asymmetries.  Screening helps to eliminate guessing and narrow the focus to specific areas or movements. It can be a real life changer and significantly help how you move and feel!

These are five simple tips that I have learned from my own personal spondy battle and years working with others.  Take this information and use it in your battle against spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis.

Remember, there is no replacement for visiting a doctor and seeking a therapist. Do not guess about your condition or stab at exercises that you think may help.

Find a doctor you trust, get a screen by a certified individual and work on improving your issues.  Following this simple formula can lead to better movement, less pain, and the joy of participating in your favorite sport again!

I would love to hear you’re what you think about this topic. Comment below to let me hear your thoughts and questions.

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