Spondylolysis is a condition in which a specific part of one of the lumbar vertebra, called the pars interarticularis, cracks or fractures. Each vertebra links to the adjacent vertebra through facet joints found on the right and left side of the rear of the vertebral body. The pars interarticularis is an important, yet fragile part of the facet joints. 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. Those with spondylolysis are often young adult males involved in sports. Back pain in adults older than 35 is less likely 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 a review of medical history, full physical evaluation and diagnostic imagery like an MRI or CT scan.

What are the treatment options for spondylolysis?

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, 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, surgery can become an option if symptoms continue for weeks or months and conservative treatment options are no longer effective. If you find yourself in that situation, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive spine surgery is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery, offering our patients a shorter recovery time with less risk of complication.^ Since 2005 we’ve helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from a wide range of spine conditions.

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