Spondylolisthesis Exercises That Relieve and Prevent Pain

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Paris, D.C on Jan. 20, 2019.

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, it’s estimated that 3 to 11.5 percent of adults have spondylolisthesis but it’s estimated that as many as 75 percent of those affected don’t have any symptoms.[i]

That’s the good news.

The bad news is ignoring it altogether may lead to excessive “swayback” curvature of your spine (lordosis) or even “round back” (kyphosis)[ii] 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 and get pain relief from spondylolisthesis.

Quick links:

Spondylolisthesis causes and 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.[iii]

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.[iv]

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 backward.

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.

From there some will recommend options such as anti-inflammatory pain pills (NSAIDs), steroid injections and decompressive laminectomy or spinal fusion surgeries.

but many people with Grade I or Grade II spondylolisthesis get excellent results by 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 drops dramatically unless you supplement them.

Now let’s think again about that decompressive laminectomy. The idea here 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.

It gently relieves spinal pressure by decompressing your vertebrae, using gravity to relieve the pressure.

Spondylolisthesis exercises to prevent and relieve pain

One of the best ways to prevent or relieve spondylolisthesis pain is to perform exercises that engage your core muscles that stabilize your spine.

Two of my favorite spondylolisthesis pain exercises are the plank for strengthening your abdominal muscles and bridging for your glutes.

They’re also great for other types of back pain. These exercises also relieve sacroiliac joint pain.

1. Plank


The plank is one of the core exercises and stabilization exercises you should add to your routine.

It strengthens your upper body and stomach muscles to provide stability to your spine.

Step 1: Lay on your stomach with your elbows and forearms at the side of your chest.

Step 2: Raise yourself onto your toes and forearms in a straight line. Keep you elbows shoulder-width apart. Your forearms should be at a 90-degree angle to your shoulders.

Step 3:  Tighten your butt and abdominal muscles to prevent your hips from sagging. Don’t let your back arch, and don’t look up or forward, as this causes strain on your neck.

Step 4: When you’re body begins to sag and shake, lower yourself to resting position.

Repeat the process until you’ve reached your tolerance level or total fatigue.

To intensify this stretch, do a leg raise 1-2 inches off the ground. Alternate on the opposite leg for 10-20 seconds per side.

2. Bridge

spondylolisthesis exercises

This exercise works your gluteal muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors and spine.

It’s not as intense as a full bridge performed in gymnastics, but you will feel a slight gluteal stretch and some relief from lower back pain.

Step 1: Lie on a mat or carpeted area flat on your back with your palms and shoulders facing the ground.

With your feet shoulder-width apart, bend your knees to bring your feet towards your butt.

Step 2: Raise your butt, hips and back off the ground while keeping your shoulders, head, hands and feet pressing down.

Hold the top of the pose for 3-5 seconds.

Step 3: Lower yourself to the ground and repeat 10-15 times.

3. Standing arm exercise for spondylolisthesis

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 backward 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.


Editor’s note: This article has been reviewed by a member of our medical advisory board. The content provided is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult with your physician if you have any questions about your health.

Read more:

Sciatica exercises to avoid: do this, not that

17 Muscles That Cause the Most Back Pain (and how to get relief!)

Can Constipation Cause Back Pain?



i Kalichman L, Kim D, Li L, Guermazi A, Berkin V and Hunter D (1976), “Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis: prevalence and association with low back pain in the adult community based population,” Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2009 Jan 15; 34(2): 199–205.  

ii Spondylolisthesis. Cedars-Sinai (www.cedars-sinai.edu) Acc. Oct. 30, 2018.

iii Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis of the Lumbar Spine. Massachusetts General Hospital: Pediatric Orthopaedic Department (massgeneral.org) Acc. Oct. 30, 2018.

iv Spondylolisthesis. The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York (www.columbiaspine.org) Acc. Oct. 30, 2018.


Filed Under: Back Pain, Exercise, Fitness, Spondylolisthesis
Written By:

Jesse Cannone, CFT, CPRS, MFT

Jesse is the co-founder and visionary CEO of The Healthy Back Institute®, the world-leading source of natural back pain solutions. His mission as a former back pain sufferer is to help others live pain free without surgery and pharmaceuticals.

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24 thoughts on “Spondylolisthesis Exercises That Relieve and Prevent Pain”

  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

      1. Thomas Jack says:

        Can I also ask what exercise made your condition better. I also have it on lower back 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)

  12. Evelyn shvetz says:

    i have exactly what Jon has – spondylolethesis at L4 and some arthritis at l5 S1. I would like to know specifically what exercises to do.

  13. Admin says:

    Hi Evelyn,

    We suggest you get our free back pain book -The 7 Day Back Pain Cure which has information and suggestions including pain relief and treatment options that you can consider, Please learn more about the book and its contents via the link below


    Thank you
    Admin (The Healthy Back Institute)

  14. Doris Riley says:

    While I understand this is a message board open to anyone wishing to post, I feel it is in poor taste to try and sell a book to people on Spondylolisthesis giving the fact they are already in pain. It sickens me that you cannot offer “free” advice to those who need it if in fact you have any “real” information as to how to relieve the pain from Spondylolisthesis. I only hope those suffering do not fall for you trickery. Please post specific comments about exercise for Spondylolisthesis only in this thread and do not try to con people into paying for your book.

  15. Steve says:

    Dear Doris R,

    Let me try to explain, what we do and why we do it…

    1. The book is FREE and while we ask of a small S/H fee the Book is FREE!

    2. Here is what YOU and EVERYONE with any type of back pain need to understand, there is no one fix for any type of back pain condition, meaning there is no one set of stretches or exercises for someone with Spondylolisthesis or Herniated disc there never has been and there will never be…

    There are however root cause reasons why those conditions develop and those root cause conditions can be address, but it take a certain about of call it energy or responsibility on the suffers part to educate ones self, to a point where you can understand all of the factors involved in the process of recovery and maintenance of the back and body, that is not something that anyone can do for you.

    And that is why we wrote the book, so that suffers can understand that the solution (AKA the root cause) is specific and targeted to the individual them selfs and what could be right for you, may not right for the next person and that is why we do not simple give to many stretches or exercises over the internet to everyone as one size fits all, we believe that is more responsible to educate the suffer then to the give them something that may not be appropriate for them…

    Further we are of the opinion that if you the suffer is not willing to do the work or put in the time or take on the responsibility needed to invoke change, (as in educate them self’s) no one can help you and while you may call it trickery, we call it self empowerment or the highest level of responsibility of self.

    That said, remember the book is free it called The 7 Day Back Pain Cure, it is very informative and if you are skilled in the art of physical fitness, you can read the book and understand how to apply the knowledge but if you are not skilled and do not understand and would like our help, yes it is true we offer products and services to help you but there is no forcing your to do anything, we put the power in your hands. You get to choose your course of action you get to choose how you live your life and you get to choose if you think we can help you, like we have help countless other in the past 12 years and you even get to choose to think or believe we are scammer or tricksters…

    Questions and Comments Welcome

    Steve HBI-Staff

  16. GR says:

    A couple of questions regarding the Standing Arm Exercise for Spondylolisthesis:

    1. For Step 3, how long are you supposed to hold the position?
    2. How many repetitions and how many sets are you supposed to do?

    Thank you for any information you can provide.

  17. GR,

    Please understand that there are no hard set number for any exercise for anyone person, in fact all exercises should be done to your tolerance, that includes Reps, Sets and hold time… Now tolerance mean, how do you feel doing the exercise, how do you feel that night and how do you feel the next day… If you did too much you will know, if you did too little you wont feel a thing and you will need to do more…

    Steve HBI Staff

  18. Cas Walker says:

    I have l4 l5 Spondylolisthesis and stenosis. I have awful pain when bending and stooping rather than bending backwards . I also get numb tingling on the top of my buttocks which affects waterworks frequency. Am very obese because I can’t exercise . Could you offer any exercise to help . Thanks

    1. Admin says:

      Hi Cas,

      Thank you for explaining your pain. We would suggest as a good starting point that you get yourself a copy of our free book the “7 Day Back Pain Cure”.

      The book discusses back pain issues and related conditions, pain relief methods to try, various treatment options you can consider, pain relief action plans and other helpful information.

      Please read more details and information about the 7 Day Back Pain Cure book via the link below


      Our Best Wishes
      Admin (The Healthy Back Institute)

  19. Kaz says:

    During plank I see some kind of longitudinal hernia in the center of my stomach. I wonder if there is any exersise
    to enforce this part?
    Thanks in advance for answer.

    1. Steve says:


      There is no way for us to know if any exercises can help prevent any longitudinal herniation, so please seek proper medical attention, it is the only way…


      Steve HBI-Staff

  20. Eberhardt Kalmar Huhn says:

    I’m a powerlifter for over 3 decades. When the govt. decided that gyms had to close (because, apparently, exercise and gyms are bad for your health and someone lower your immunity…), I took matters into my own hands and began using other types of weights, like those concrete parking stops which weigh about 350 lbs. The weight isn’t a big deal, but the shape is very cumbersome and unwieldy. This, of course, led to an L-5 vertebra slippage of 11mm. I’ve injured myself many times while working out, but never in such a debilitating way. I’ve been working through various exercises to bring the vertebra back into position. People like me tend to jump the gun and say, “OK, I’m feeling better now – lets go lift something heavier,” all to set the recovery back. and it may be a long process, but because of my experiences in many recoveries, I believe it can be done. It’s all a matter of patience.

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