top of page

Understanding Spondylolisthesis: Implications for Remedial Massage Therapists


As remedial massage therapists, our primary goal is to improve the well-being of our clients through skilful and informed manual therapy. One condition that we may encounter is spondylolisthesis, Understanding Spondylolisthesis: for remedial massage therapists a spinal disorder that can significantly impact a client's comfort and mobility. In this article, we'll delve into the basics of spondylolisthesis, its different types, potential causes, and considerations for providing effective remedial massage therapy.

Understanding Spondylolisthesis

Understanding Spondylolisthesis: Implications for Remedial Massage Therapists

Spondylolisthesis refers to the forward displacement of one vertebra over another, typically in the lumbar (lower) region of the spine. This condition can result in pain, discomfort, and even nerve compression, affecting a person's quality of life.

Spondylolisthesis commonly occurs in the lumbar spine, particularly at the fifth lumbar vertebra (L5) and the first sacral vertebra (S1). The exact cause of spondylolisthesis is not always clear, but several factors can contribute to its development. One common cause is a defect or fracture in a small portion of the vertebra called the pars interarticularis, which can weaken the structural integrity of the spine and lead to vertebral slippage.

Sciatica CPE-CPD Massage Professional ​Development STUDY MODULE

​This article includes information adapted for our Sciatica CPE-CPD Massage Professional ​Development STUDY MODULE. If you would like to find out more and earn CPD points click this LINK

Other factors that may contribute to spondylolisthesis include age-related degeneration of the spinal structures, such as the intervertebral discs and facet joints, as well as genetic predisposition and certain activities or sports that place repetitive stress on the spine. In some cases, spondylolisthesis may be associated with conditions like spinal arthritis or spondylosis, where the joints and discs of the spine undergo degenerative changes.

The severity of spondylolisthesis is graded based on the extent of vertebral slippage, ranging from grade 1 (mild) to grade 5 (severe). Symptoms of spondylolisthesis can vary depending on the degree of slippage and the involvement of the sciatic nerve. Common symptoms include lower back pain, stiffness, muscle tightness, and radiating leg pain that may resemble sciatica.

There are various classifications of spondylolisthesis, but the most common types include:

  • Isthmic Spondylolisthesis: This is usually caused by a defect in the pars interarticularis, a small bridge of bone connecting adjacent vertebrae. It can result from repetitive stress, such as gymnastics or weightlifting.

  • Degenerative Spondylolisthesis: Often associated with aging, this type occurs due to the breakdown of the spinal discs and facet joints, leading to instability in the spine.

  • Traumatic Spondylolisthesis: Caused by a sudden injury or trauma to the spine, this type can result in vertebral displacement.

Massage Considerations

When working with clients who have spondylolisthesis, there are several important considerations to keep in mind:

  • Assessment: Before beginning any massage therapy, conduct a thorough assessment of the client's medical history and condition. Collaborate with their healthcare provider to understand the severity, type, and any contraindications for massage.

  • Client Comfort: Focus on ensuring your client's comfort throughout the session. Use pillows, bolsters, and positioning techniques to support their spine and reduce strain.

  • Gentle Techniques: Opt for gentle and non-invasive massage techniques. Avoid deep pressure or techniques that may exacerbate the client's condition. Techniques like Swedish massage, myofascial release, and gentle stretching can be beneficial.

  • Localised Approach: Target areas around the affected vertebrae, addressing muscle tension and promoting relaxation. Avoid directly massaging over the displaced vertebrae or areas of pain.

  • Communication: Regularly check in with your client during the session. Encourage them to communicate any discomfort or pain, so you can adjust your techniques accordingly.

  • Avoid Overstretching: Be cautious with stretches, as excessive movement can strain the already compromised spine. Focus on gentle, controlled stretches that respect the limitations of the condition.


Spondylolisthesis is a complex condition that requires a thoughtful and cautious approach when providing remedial massage therapy. By collaborating with healthcare professionals, conducting thorough assessments, and using gentle techniques, we can contribute positively to our client's well-being. Always prioritise client comfort, safety, and effective communication throughout the treatment process.


  • Maus TP, Aprill CN. Lumbar discogenic pain: State-of-the-art review. Pain Med. 2008 Nov;9(8): 577-588. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2008.00445.x.

  • Wiltse LL, Newman PH, Macnab I. Classification of spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1976 Nov-Dec;(117):23-29.

Note: This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.

massage cpd courses
bottom of page