Spondylolisthesis and Pregnancy

Exercise Before Helps Prevent Pain During Pregnancy

Question: I have grade II spondylolisthesis, but I'm not experiencing any symptoms. What would happen if I became pregnant? Would the weight and pressure of the baby worsen my condition?
—Kingston, RIWoman in silhouette thinking about having a baby, baby silhouette in cloud overheadAnswer: It's great that you're asking these questions now because it's important to deal with these concerns before becoming pregnant. And fortunately, although you cannot reduce spondylolisthesis, nor prevent possible worsening, there are ways to prevent symptom progression, especially during pregnancy.

But here's the unavoidable truth—pregnancy is hard on your back. In fact, approximately 80% of women report having back pain while pregnant, and many of those women don't have a pre-existing spinal disorder! Posture changes, weight gain, and loss of abdominal strength all directly affect the health of your back. You can learn more in our article about back care and pregnancy. So even though your spondylolisthesis hasn't produced any symptoms, becoming pregnant may exacerbate your condition.

So what can you do? Focus on your health before getting pregnant. Since you have mild grade II spondylolisthesis (you can learn more about the grades of spondylolisthesis here), exercise is a great place to start.

Focus on exercises that engage your core muscles. Pelvic tilts are great for working your abdominals. Swimming and water aerobics are also effective, low-impact activities that increase muscle mass. Enroll in a Pilates class at your local gym. If you need a place to start, read our article about back pain exercises and stretches.

Focusing on your abdominal strength before getting pregnant is important, but it may seem like a waste of time because pregnancy causes your abdominal muscles naturally relax and lose tone. This allows your womb to expand as your baby grows.

Abdominal strength is connected to spine strength because your abdominals support your back muscles. If you have a weak midsection, your back muscles will have to work harder to compensate.

Building a strong core before you get pregnant will stave off the muscle relaxation process. As a result, you'll experience less pain throughout your pregnancy and your body will recover faster after you give birth.

Also, strong muscles will help prevent weight gain. Weight gain puts more pressure on the back and will likely worsen your spondylolisthesis.

Having spondylolisthesis doesn't mean that exercise is off limits. Be proactive about your health, especially if a baby is in your future. Of course, each case of spondylolisthesis is different. Talk to your doctor about your hopes of getting pregnant. He or she will recommend the next steps for you to take to give you the most successful pregnancy possible.