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Spondylolysis

Pronounced: spon-dee-low-lie-sis

 

Definition

Spondylolysis is a stress fracture. It occurs in a part of the vertebrae (spinal bone). The pars interarticularis is a portion of the bone between the facets. There is a right and left section.

This condition occurs in the lower back. About 90% of the time, it is in the fifth lumbar vertebra. It can fracture on one or both sides (bilateral). Left untreated, it can lead to spondylolisthesis. This is a more serious condition. The vertebra slips forward on the one below it. Both conditions can cause back pain.

This fracture is the most common cause of back pain in adolescent athletes.

Spondylolysis

Nuclus factsheet image

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

 

Causes    TOP

Spondylolysis can be caused by:

  • Congenital defect in the spine that usually appears a few years after birth
  • Acute trauma to the back
  • Degenerative conditions of the spine
 

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase the chance of spondylolysis include:

  • Genetics
  • Playing sports, such as gymnastics, football, diving, wrestling, or weightlifting
  • Improper athletic or exercise technique
  • Adolescent growth spurt
  • Chronic overextension (bending backwards) with or without side bending of the back (common in certain sports and activities)
  • Hamstring tightness or muscle imbalance
  • Cerebral palsy (less common)
 

Symptoms    TOP

Many people have no symptoms at all. In those that have them, symptoms may include:

  • Pain across the lower back
  • Spasms in the back and hamstring muscles
  • Pain radiating down the leg
 

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Imaging tests to find the fracture and look for other problems in the soft tissue may include:

 

Treatment    TOP

If you have symptoms, treatment may include:

Exercise Restriction

Do not do athletic activities for several weeks to several months. In general, this restriction should last until the symptoms are gone.

Back Brace

The doctor may suggestwearing a back brace. This will help relieve pain. About 4-6 weeks of bracing may be needed. The brace should limit extension of the lower (lumbar) spine.

Physical Therapy    TOP

To relieve the pain and prevent recurrences, a physical therapist can teach:

  • Exercises to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles—these muscles stabilize the spine
  • Proper exercise and sports techniques to help prevent overuse and further injury
  • Hamstring stretches

Medication    TOP

Medications may be given for pain relief.

Surgery    TOP

Surgery may be needed if there is:

  • Injury to the nerve
  • High-grade spondylolisthesis (more than 50% slippage)
  • No relief from medications, rest, activity modification, and physical therapy

Two procedures are usually needed:

  • Decompressive laminectomy — removal of bone and tissue that are putting pressure on the spinal nerves
  • Spinal fusion —fusing together of the 2 involved vertebrae to prevent further slippage of the vertebra
 

Prevention    TOP

To help reduce your chance of spondylolysis:

  • Limit how much you participate in certain sports. This will help prevent overuse injury.
  • Keep the abdominal and back muscles strong. Keep the hamstring muscles supple.
  • Use proper equipment for your sport.
  • Warm up properly before exercising or playing sports.
  • Learn proper techniques for exercise and athletic activities.
  • Seek medical care for chronic back pain. Early vertebral stress fractures, particularly in teens and young adults, may heal with rest.
RESOURCES:

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
http://www.healthychildren.org

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org

REFERENCES:

Boden BP, Osbahr DC, et al. Low-risk stress fractures. Am J Sports Med. 2001;29(1):100-111.

Bono CM. Low-back pain in athletes. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2004;86-A(2):382-396.

Eddy D, Congeni J, et al. A review of spine injuries and return to play. Clin J Sport Med. 2005;15(6):453-458.

Herman MJ, Pizzutillo PD. Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis in the child and adolescent: A new classification. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2005;(434):46-54.

Lumbar spondylolysis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116565/Lumbar-spondylolysis . Updated July 16, 2015. Accessed November 27, 2017.

Nitta A, Sakai T, Goda Y, et al. Prevalence of Symptomatic Lumbar Spondylolysis in Pediatric Patients. Orthopedics. 2016;39(3):e434-e437.

Peer KS, Fascione JM. Spondylolysis: a review and treatment approach. Orthop Nurs. 2007;26(2):104-111.

A report from the Scoliosis Research Society Evidence-Based Medicine Committee. Spine Deformity. 2017;5:97-101.

Sakai T, Yamada H, et al. Lumbar spinal disorders in patients with athetoid cerebral palsy: a clinical and biomechanical study. Spine. 2006;31(3):E66-E70.



Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT, GCS
Last Updated: 12/20/2014

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