Spondylolysis is a condition in which a specific part of one of the lumbar vertebra, called the pars interarticularis, cracks or fractures. Each vertebra contacts the adjacent vertebra through the intervertebral disc and also through facet joints found on the right and left side of the posterior portion of the vertebra. Any given vertebra contacts the vertebra above it through the superior facet and contacts the vertebra below it through the inferior facet. The pars interarticularis lies between the superior and inferior facet. The cause of spondylolysis is not known but is likely the result of repetitive shear forces applied to the spine, such as in sports injuries. If the fracture is severe enough, it could lead to spondylolisthesis, where a vertebra starts to slip forward off the supporting vertebra below it.

Diagnosing spondylolysis

Spondylolysis is characterized by persistent back pain predominantly in the lumbar area. Spondylolysis occurs in about 5 percent of the U.S. population. Those with spondylolysis are most likely to be young adult males involved in sports. Back pain in adults older than 35 is highly unlikely to originate from spondylolysis. It is much more likely that a disc injury, such as a bulging disc or prolapsed disc, arthritis of the spine or spinal stenosis, is the cause of back pain in this group of patients. Definitive diagnosis is made through an MRI or CT scan.

What are the treatment options for spondylolysis?

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, usually by MRI scan or CT scan, the most commonly prescribed treatment is rest. This recommendation is especially true for people whose condition is the result of sports training. Rest prevents the injury from getting worse and allows the fractures to heal. Over-the-counter or prescription medications are also usually part of the treatment plan to reduce pain, swelling and inflammation while the injury heals. In some severe cases, patients with spondylolysis may require immobilization through use of a back brace to stabilize the injury while healing occurs.

Conservative treatment is usually successful, particularly if initiated soon after injury. Once the injury has healed, most spondylolysis patients can gradually resume their normal activities. However, there is the rare occasion that conservative treatment will not adequately treat spondylolysis. If you find yourself in that situation, contact Laser Spine Institute. We offer minimally invasive outpatient procedures that are often the clinically appropriate first choice and provide many advantages versus open neck or back surgery, and they have been proven to treat symptoms of spondylolysis.