Yoga Poses for Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is a condition when a vertebra slips forward over a lower vertebra due to a congenital defect or fracture. It usually affects either the fourth or the fifth lumbar vertebra in the lower back. In some instances, this may lead to spinal cord or nerve root compression, back pain, and numbness or weakness in the legs. The low back pain that results from Spondylolisthesis can be reduced by first by gently stretching the hamstrings and then by slowly strengthening the back muscles and abdominal muscles. You also want to choose postures that focus on good spinal alignment. End with a long shavasana with bolster under knees and/or a folded blanket under the low back to support the low back.

Caution: Back bends are contraindicated and postures that combine twisting and forward bending are not recommended. In forward bends, keep the back flat and long. If a yoga pose causes any pain, tingling, or numbness, stop immediately. Move into the poses slowly and gently; use long hold times and practice slow deep breathing in the poses. Any movements that increase your symptoms should be avoided.

Click on an image or posture name for detailed instructions, contraindications and modifications. [/ihc-hide-content]

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Comments 8

  1. I have grade 1 spondylolisthesis (spondy), for one year bothering me, and I am looking to reverse it.

    1)Would chair backbend be OK? I would think the lower back is protected.
    2)I do some partial inversions with the inversion table, and it seems to help, presides strengthening my core muscles.
    3)Could you look into modified assanas that reverse the condition? I saw an interesting article/comment on reversing a much higher grade spondy at If anyone would go to Kabir Baug for treatment, will you enlighten us how some basics is done?

  2. miahsmilton – I’m not sure what exactly you mean by chair backbend, but all backbends are contraindicated with spondylolisthesis. If you have a lot of experience with yoga and are very aware of your body you might be able to very carefully move into a mild backbend, but I would not advise this. Anything that will create length (axial extension) of the spine would be good to do – that is probably what the inversion table is providing you.

  3. I am suffering from spondyolisthses since 1.5 months. I want to recover by yoga. This is grade 1 spondyolytic with sponyolisthesis.plz help me

  4. I ha e mobile grade 2 (40%) spondyolisthesis with x-rays showing greater displacement with forward bends than with backward bending. I have practiced Brigham for 15 years and now, after a long time out, and returning. I write to questions your statement about all back bends being contraindicated… I want to restore and increase internal musculature surrounding the spinal column. If you are careful, wouldn’t both front and back be ok ( and, given my xrays, perhaps backbends safer than forward bending)?


    PS. My neural surgeon (have not had surgery but have seen a surgeon) told me to stay away from acupuncture yoga and chiropractors (aka quacks), whereas my pain management MD said accupuncture and yoga were fine (I had already gone to an acupuncturist whatever the surgeon said, and this helped pain a lot)

    1. Post

      Hi Lisa, unfortunately we cannot prescribe any medical advice. I would recommend you consult with a physical therapist or a trained yoga therapist for specific recommendations with your current condition.

  5. I am a spondy with 20% slip in my spine. Probably from 2 different accidents, one earlier in life, one in my early 60s. I took up yoga at 50 and in our remote village, after our Iyengar teacher moved away, I was asked to be the teacher! After 17 years of learning to take the class I work on my back daily and do not stint on forward bends or twists. I start the day with gentle back bends in bed. I will never be as advanced in backbends as other asanas but none the less I can put in a careful proficiency for my nearly 70 years. After diagnosis [and not much follow-up assistance] I was not keen to give up teaching my once a week class and was astonished that after every session I felt better after demonstrating and teaching! Yoga is an inner journey but the outer journey of communication through yoga is also a healing process.

  6. On researching supportive asanas for spondylolisthesis I came across your site and the info and various comments above.
    I wanted to add some thoughts that might be helpful for spondy sufferers.
    First of all we must remember that the spine has 5 major movement possibilities:
    Flexion, rounds the spine forward.
    Extension, rounds the spine back.
    Rotation, twists the spine.
    Side bending/Lateral flexion of the spine.
    Axial extension, decompresses and vertically elongates the spine.

    Obviously some of these movements are compromised and cause pain with this condition. However I strongly feel that one needs to maintain as much movement as possible in all these 5 major directions in order not to further stiffen the spine and therefore bring more pain. I think that saying ALL backbends are contraindicated might be a bit of a sweeping statement since backbends are the movements that help to maintain the strength of the deep intrinsic back muscles. These in conjunction with the deep intrinsic abdominal muscles are important to keep strong in order to provide support for the spine, just as Lisa wrote above. The question therefore is which backbends are indicated and how do we practice them.
    There are several good backbends for this condition especially the forms that lift up and away from the mat and I will only mention one example here and also just one example of how to practice it:
    Salabhasana (locust). Begin by lying prone on the mat. Bring your awareness to the feet and legs and begin to activate them. Gently press the toenails into the mat, awaken the quadriceps, gently press the pubic bone down into the mat to ensure length and breadth of the lower back. Then start by just lifting the top of the shoulders off the mat, feel the space between the shoulder blades awakening, then lift the chest slowly away from the mat and feel the deep intrinsic muscles in the mid and lower back awakening, finally lift the head and extend the neck in one beautiful long extension with the spine. Hold this position for as long as is appropriate for you, then slowly return back to the mat and repeat 5 – 8 times.
    As I said this is just one example but my point is that working slowly and gently with awareness is the key to healing. I’m not a believer in cutting out movements but rather in finding ways to encourage the body to maintain its range of movement as much as possible in order not to stiffen up and cause further pain.
    I hope these thoughts are helpful for spondylolisthesis sufferers.
    (and please find a competent teacher to help you!)

  7. I’m afraid my addiction to Yoga hurt me, I was doing over an hr a day every day way to much for someone 64 yrs old. I did see a measurable increase in strength and flexiblity however the repeated back bends, even though it felt good was very bad for the condition. I had a major back attack, and was taken by ambulance to a hospital in extreme pain. In addition to the Spondy, I have a herniated disk.

    I moved to mat Pilates, keeping my lower back pressed into the mat and do a lot of core strengthening. I avoid any side to side bending, no twisting. I feeling much better, off pain meds.

    I’m taking a course in Pilatis aimed at people over 50 which makes use of a large ball. If you can find one, I recommend it.

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