How do I fix spondylolythesis and what are good exercises?

Oct 17, 2019

Spondylolythesis, a condition that people tend to ask me about fairly regularly, occurs when one of the vertebrae in the spine slips out of alignment causing pain that worsens with movement.  

I talked about the condition and what you can expect to achieve through exercise in the blog What is spondylolisthesis and what should your goal for exercise be?  In this tutorial I take it a step further looking at more specific stretches and exercises that could help the condition.

How to ‘fix’ spondylolythesis?

I’m a personal trainer, so I’m not going to talk about surgical options here, instead I want to focus on exercise. Can exercise fix spondylolythesis? The answer is it’s not likely to fix it, but it can have massive benefits for the sufferer. Exercise won’t realign the vertebrae, but the right exercises can help to build muscles to reduce stress on the spine and protect and support it, helping to reduce pain. 

You may even find that, done in the right way, exercise can give you the ability to go about your everyday life without being limited by the condition. It’s about improving quality of life.

What type of exercise should I do for spondylolythesis?

It’s not all good news though, you will find you’re limited to some degree in the type of fitness work you can do. But eventually, following the right programme, there is no reason you won’t be able to exercise to a reasonable intensity using exercises you might have previously done in the gym.

In the real world, I work with someone with spondylolythesis and we’ve managed to get him to this point. Yes, he’s limited in the number of exercises he can do, but he is working at a level of intensity that allows him to get a sweat on and he’s enjoying it again. Of course, you don’t have to take it that far if you don’t want to; your goal may simply be some therapeutic exercises that allow you to improve the way you move around day to day, and that is fine too.

What specific exercises should I do?

From my training and experience working with clients the best exercises to focus on are those that contact multiple core muscles at the same time. This will help to stiffen your torso and protect your spine by acting like guy ropes to hold it in place.  

In this tutorial I focus on three such exercises and stretches. These will help to build that all-important muscular strength. But only if you do them correctly and protect your back in the process.

You can find out more about these key exercises for spondylolythesis by watching the video above. In it you’ll find explanatory diagrams and descriptions to help you ensure you’re getting the most out of each position.  

In summary:

  1. Bird dog

How to do the bird dog?

Begin on all fours with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders, engage your core to maintain a neutral position in your spine and then slowly raise your left arm and right leg, keeping your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor and your chin tucked down on your chest. Repeat on both sides. 

Things to think about:

This one is nice and low stress for the spine, but you need to practise using your core muscles to hold your torso in position so your hips and shoulders can do all the work. 

  1. Side plank

How to do the side plank?

Lie on your left side on a mat, place your feet on top of the other and lift up on your left elbow and forearm. Place your right hand on your right hip and hold. Repeat on right side. If this is too hard at first, start by raising up from your knees rather than your feet. 

Things to think about:

Side planks are great for building the obliques, the muscles at the side of the spine – in fact done correctly you should be able to activate the whole of your core, making this a great exercise for spondylolythesis sufferers. 

  1. Bridge

How to do the shoulder bridge?

Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip distance apart. Make sure your arms are lying parallel to your body. Engage your core and lift your pelvis so your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders

Things to think about:

Remember your goal here is for the glutes, those large muscles in your buttocks, to be the main performing muscles. You must be careful that you’re not carrying the exercise on your ham strings and lower back muscles allowing your glutes to switch off and not get the benefit from the position. Have a read of this previous blog to learn more about activating the glutes.


And what about hip stretches?

Watch the tutorial above to learn about the most useful hip stretches for spondylolythesis sufferers. It’s vital to make sure you tackle these new positions slowly and mindfully ensuring you’re stretching the hips correctly and not aggravating spine.


When attempting each exercise you should concentrate on maintaining the natural S-curve of your spine. Your goal should be to train the core muscles, so they are able to work together to create a stiffened torso to reduce stress on the spine. If not done right, it won’t only render the exercise ineffectual it could actually have an impact on how your spine feels.

Want more? Why not reserve your spot on my Fundamentals of Spine Health webinar to find out more about this subject and start your journey towards a pain-free back and improved spine health?

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