Video Series: Exercises for Spondylolisthesis

Try these 3 simple stretches and exercises to help reduce spondylolisthesis related low back pain.

What exercises help relieve spondylolisthesis?

You may think you should avoid exercising with spondylolisthesis, but physical activity could actually help alleviate symptoms. Your spine specialist may recommend 3 exercises for spondylolisthesis pain: pelvic tilts, knee lifts, and curl-ups. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or slowly adding stretching to your routine, these exercises may be a great addition to your spondylolisthesis treatment plan.

The videos above demonstrate the proper form to follow for each exercise. You can also read below for more details on why these activities are particularly helpful for people with spondylolisthesis and tips for success.

Pelvic Tilt

Purpose: To strengthen your lower abdominal muscles and stretch your low back (lumbar spine).

How to perform a pelvic tilt:

  1. Lie on your back.
  2. As you exhale, tighten your abdominal muscles while you push your belly button toward the floor and flatten your low back.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds. Relax.
  4. Repeat 10 times, holding the position for 5 seconds each time.

How can I tell if I’m doing the pelvic tilt right?

  • Using one of your hands, place your pinky finger on your hip bone and thumb on your lowest rib.
  • As you squeeze your abdominal muscles, your pinky and thumb should move closer together.

Pelvic tilts can help you gently stretch your low backPelvic tilts can help you gently stretch your low back. Photo Source:

Knee Lifts (Marching)

Purpose: To stabilize your spine and strengthen your abdominal muscles.

How to perform knee lifts:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
  2. Start with a pelvic tilt: Contract your abdominal muscles while pushing your belly button down toward the floor. Maintain the contraction in your abdominals throughout the whole exercise.
  3. Raise 1 foot 3 to 4 inches off the floor. Gently return your foot to the floor.
  4. Repeat with the other foot.
  5. Do the exercise 5 times on each foot.

Knee lift illustration.After laying flat on your back, raise one foot at a time. Photo Source:

Curl-up (Crunch)

Purpose: To strengthen your abdominal muscles and stabilize your core.

How to perform a curl-up:

  1. Lie on your back in the hook lying position (knees bent and feet flat on the floor).
  2. Cross your hands and arms across your chest, with your hands resting on your shoulders.
  3. Raise your head, neck, upper back, and shoulders off the floor.
  4. As you move up, exhale. As you move down, inhale.
  5. Repeat 10 times, ultimately working up to 3 sets.

Ready to take on an advanced version?
Instead of crossing your hands on your chest, place your hands behind your head with elbows out wide. Lift and lower 10 times, working up to 3 sets.
Curl crunch exercise, woman with arms folded over chest.Curls-ups are a type of abdominal crunch exercise that can help strengthen your body’s core. Photo Source:

How do these exercises reduce spondylolisthesis pain?

Spondylolisthesis occurs when a vertebra moves or slips over the vertebra below it, sometimes causing spinal instability. To add stability to your spine, these 3 exercises focus on strengthening your core, or abdominal, muscles.

How is core strength linked to back pain? A strong core better supports your back and takes the pressure off your spine. The abdominal muscles have been called the “front anchor” of your spine. If your core is weak, your back muscles and other supporting spinal structures will feel the pressure—and, ultimately, you will, too. People with strong abdominal muscles have a strong built-in defense system against back pain.

Can exercising with spondylolisthesis hurt me?

Exercising with spondylolisthesis can help strengthen and stabilize your spine, but it can also cause further injury when not done properly. These 3 tips will show you how to manage your back pain with exercise the right way.

  • Exercise under medical guidance. Many people with spondylolisthesis are athletes who put a lot of strain on their spines—weight lifters, gymnasts, and football players to name a few. Staying active may be second nature, but it’s important to talk to your spine specialist about any activity you want to pursue to get his or her approval. Some exercises may be off limits, and your doctor should give you the green light before you start to prevent further damage.
  • Think differently about exercise. If you are used to performing high-impact physical exercises and sports, you will most likely need to modify your exercise plan because of your spondylolisthesis pain. Your spine specialist can help you make safe adjustments to your activity regimen to keep your spine as healthy as possible.
  • Pushing too hard may make things worse. “No pain, no gain” is not a healthy mantra when exercising with spondylolisthesis. Focus instead on “no pain.” Take things slow, focus on your form, and trust that consistency and a gentle approach will lead to a stronger core and spine. And if you experience any new pain or other symptoms (such as numbness or tingling), call your spine specialist immediately.

Physical activity can be a strong, sustainable force against back pain—when it’s done the right way. By adding these 3 exercises and stretches to your daily routine, you may find it easier to manage spondylolisthesis.

Continue Reading …Physical Therapy for Spondylolisthesis