Spondylolisthesis Exercises

Spondylolisthesis: 14 Exercises To Do and 4 Things To Avoid (Easy to Advanced)
Welcome to Complete Care Physio’s Guide to Spondylolisthesis Exercise Treatment
Spondylolisthesis may sound like a big, scary term, but there are a number of exercises and stretches that you can do at home, which can provide substantial results. 5% – 10% of the population has some degree of spondylolisthesis, and some of them would not even know. If you do know you’re suffering from this, it’s important to practice exercising and working on increasing your back mobility to eventually: avoid pain, avoid surgery and have a continued, active lifestyle.

This Guide Should Help You Understand:

  • What spondylolisthesis is
  • 10 Exercises to practice (easy and advanced methods)
  • 4 things to avoid
  • Other lifestyle tips for this condition
Spondylolisthesis Etiology and Cause
  • What is spondylolisthesis?
  • Spondylolisthesis is a condition when the spine slightly forwards. It’s usually a shift caused at the lumbar spine (lower back), most commonly between L4-L5 placements. A fracture occurs when one vertebrae is shifted forwards and becomes misaligned as a result. Remember, those who are experiencing this condition will not see a cure within a week. The goal of these exercises is to help stabilize the vertebrae from slippage and building muscle to help support the scar tissue from building up around the spine.
  • How do I know I’m suffering from it?
  • You will want to practice these exercises if you have trouble standing up in one spot for 10-20 minutes, and start to feel pain and numbness on one or both legs, usually finding relief when you sit down. Those who have played sports or have gotten in an accident from over stretching the lower back, may also have caused this condition. 
    14 Exercises and Stretches for Spondylolisthesis

    These exercises will help manage the pain and work on your core – the focus is on tightening your abdominals. Why is core strengthening important? Building your core helps prevent the spine from slipping forwards further and provides extra assistance to the weakened area. While these are helpful treatments that you can do at home on the daily, physiotherapy for spondylolisthesis can also help you regain the energy and lessen the pain of the lower spine. Your physiotherapist will teach you more personalized exercises and recommend products that can assist in the recovery process.

    All these exercises should be performed on a hard surface or on the floor with a soft mat. Start with the Easy exercises and slowly work your way up to more advanced positions. A pillow can be used to support your neck and head. Start by laying on your back with your knees bent and feet or heels on the floor.

    Duration: 5 to 10 minutes
    1) Pelvic anterior tilt:
    10-15 times; hold for 5 seconds
    • place the top of your hand under your back and squeeze your pelvis as if you are squishing your hand 
    Goal: try and round your back while keeping it pressed against the floor
    2) Partial curl:
    10-15 times; try to do up to 50
    • cross your arms over your chest and do small crunches
    Goal: remember to round your back and push pelvis and back pressed against the floor. Do not go all the way to your knees. Make them small sit-ups. 
    3) Pelvic tilt knee-up:
    5-15 times; try to do up to 50
    • hold your pelvis and keeping your back flat against the floor
    • bring one knee towards your chest while the other stays grounded 
    • then bring the other knee towards your chest 
    Advanced Exercises:
    Duration: 10 to 15 minutes
    4) Double-Knee Chest:
    10-15 times
    • keep the same position as in the Pelvic tilt knee-up
    • bring both knees towards your chest at the same time, while holding the pelvis down 
    5) Knee-up arm stretch/Dead bug:
    5-15 times
    • keep the same position as in the Pelvic tilt knee-up
    • bring your knee up and towards the chest while you reach the opposite arm over and behind your head 
    • rotating back and forth and work your way up
    6) Sit-up twist:
    5-15 times
    • cross your arms over your chest
    • as you sightly crunch up, bring your left elbow towards your opposite knee 
    • do the same for the right elbow while bringing your opposite knee towards it
    Goal: make sure your knee is lifted and moving towards your elbow and is not static
    With an exercise ball:
    7) Pelvic knee-ups:
    15-20; try to do up to 50
    • place your legs on the ball with your feet at the top
    • while holding the ball with your legs, bring it up and towards your chest 
    Goal: this forces your back to lay flat on the floor
    8) Crunches:
    20-30 times 
    • keep your legs around the ball as you normally crunch up
    9) Hamstring in and outs:
    • have your heels on the top ball and your knees bent upwards
    • keep your core up as you extend your legs straight while you push the ball back and forth with your legs an feet
    • Push out to extend your legs straight, bend your knees when pushing back in
    10) Elbow to knee sit ups:
    20-30 times; try to do up to 50
    • have your legs around the ball
    • cross your arms and bring your knees with the ball towards you while crunching up at the same time
    Goal: bring your elbows and knees towards each other 
    11) Knee touches:
    15-20; try to do up to 50
    • have your legs around the ball and hold them up
    • as you’re holding, cross your arms over your chest and bring your left elbow towards the opposite knee, hold for 5 secs or keep up the pace
    • repeat with the other elbow
    12) Ball back extension:
    • Lay on the ball with your stomach, with your elbow bent and hands flat on the ball
    • have your legs straight and toes pointed down on the floor
    • carefully extend your arms straight, pushing out from the ball as you would in a push up 
    • do not push to high for your back to curve upwards

    *You can also tilt as to twist to the right and the left sides instead of straight to work the sides, and for your back to maintain rotation 

    Flexion stretches Duration: 3 minutes
    1) Knee to chest:
    hold for 30 seconds; repeat 3 times
    • bring your knees to your chest as far as you can while you curl up and hold them together
    • if you have knee problems, squish them underneath your knees instead of holding them down 
    2) Hamstring stretch:
    hold for 30 seconds; repeat 3 times 
    • have a belt or a long rope that you can hold onto 
    • have one foot out and extended long, placing it in the middle of the rope 
    • grab the two sides and pull your foot upwards and as straight as you can for 30 seconds for 3 times 
    Goal: Keep it on the ball of your foot and not your toes 

    4 Things To Avoid

    1) Overhead stretches
    Any actions that force your head to tilt up and have your arms raised upwards will cause further strain. Thrusting forwards as you stand is also a common way to increase back damage. Bending your back upwards while lying on your stomach while curving your back in a cobra yoga position will also increase risk of shifting.
    2) High impact activities - know your tolerance
    Walking is a great exercise for the back, but you should only practice what you can handle, and should not go beyond your tolerance. Avoid any activities such as running, basketball, football or gymnastics that could decrease the recovery process.
    3) Heavy Lifting
    Weightlifting can have a huge impact on your back if not done correctly. Lifting places strain to your back, and goes along with the increased pain through overhead stretching.
    4) Over-stretching, over-extending or over-bending
    Exercises such as bending over for toe touches or complex yoga poses can be damaging for those suffering from spondylolisthesis. Excessive twisting to the side is also not recommended. The best way to control pain and maintain your spinal structure is through core work.
    Other Lifestyle Tips:

    Keeping a maintained range of motion and exercise will be the most beneficial to relieve yourself from spondylolisthesis. You don’t always have to do flexion exercises, but you can add in simple extension exercises to build up mobility again. Remember, do not over extend your back!

    You can also incorporate cold and hot packs. Have cold packs for relief of excessive soreness: you’ll need to lay down while placing a cold/ice pack on the lower part of your back. Use a hot pack only when the area is not flared up. 

    Your back and its scar tissue are very vulnerable when suffering with spondylolisthesis. It is best advised to speak with your physician to know which exercises and tips may cause further harm and pain. Still have questions? Call to learn more about receiving a free examination with Complete Care today. 

    If you are interested in our services we have physiotherapy offices in Brampton and Hamilton (East Hamilton, Stoney Creek, Hamilton Mountain) that would be happy to receive you.

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