Spondylolysis :: Nationwide Children's Hospital

Spondylolysis

What is Spondylolysis?

  • Spondylolysis is a stress fracture of an area of the spine.
  • It is caused by repetitive hyperextension (arching) and rotation of the back.
  • This injury is commonly seen in young athletes complaining of low back pain.

What are Common Signs and Symptoms?

  • Consistent pain (>2-3 weeks) in the low back that is worse with arching & twisting
  • Stiffness of the lower back
  • Tightness of the hamstring muscles

Can Spondylolysis Be Prevented?

  • Using proper technique
  • Wearing proper protective equipment and making sure it fits correctly
  • Warming up and stretching before practice or competition
  • Appropriate back and hamstring flexibility, back & core muscle strength and endurance, and physical fitness

What Increases the Risk for Spondylosis?

  • Any sport in which movement causes arching of the back with either rotation or repetition. It is commonly seen in:
    • Gymnastics
    • Football
    • Diving
    • Dance
    • Wrestling
    • Tennis
    • Swimming
    • Running
    • Volleyball
    • Contact sports
  • Poor physical conditioning (strength and flexibility)
  • Inadequate warm-up before practice or play
  • Family history of spondylolysis
  • Poor technique

What are Some Possible Complications of Spondylolysis?

  • Delayed healing of fracture, especially if sports are resumed too soon
  • Frequent return of symptoms, resulting in a chronic problem, resulting in chronic pain
  • Long term disability
  • Progression to spondylolisthesis (movement of one vertebra on another)

How is Spondylolysis Commonly Treated and What is the Expected Outcome?

  • Rest from activity that causes pain (no arching of the back)
  • Anti-inflammatory medication (such as ibuprofen) or minor pain relievers (such as acetaminophen)
  • Ice or a back brace
  • Referral to a Physical Therapist or Athletic Trainer for rehabilitation
  • Symptoms usually improve within 6-12 weeks. Return to sport is possible within 3-6 months
  • Surgery is usually reserved for those athletes who have pain despite 6-12 months of conservative treatment.
 

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