The opening of the Tyrrhenian Sea has been punctuated by short-lived episodes of oceanic accretion on separate small backarc basins during early Pliocene (Vavilov basin) and early Pleistocene (Marsili basin) time. These spreading pulses are related to slab rollback and are synchronous with the reduction of the subduction zone width during the formation of the narrow Calabrian arc. Using laboratory models, we investigated the long-term and transient effects of the reduction of slab width on the subduction kinematics. We found that the abrupt reduction in slab width results in a pulse of acceleration of the trench retreat velocity, as the balance between driving and resisting forces acting on the slab is temporarily modified. Our findings also show that the time scale and amplitude of spreading observed in the Tyrrhenian Sea can be experimentally fitted if the scaled viscosity of the uppermost part of the mantle ranges between 1019 and 1020 Pa s.