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Neurosciences and Behavioral Health Center

Spondylolysis

Spondylolysis

Spondylolysis is a stress fracture that occurs in a part of the vertebrae in the lower back. About 90 percent of the time it’s in the fifth lumbar vertebra. Left untreated, it can lead to spondylolisthesis, a more serious condition where the vertebra slips forward on the one below it. Both conditions can cause back pain.

Common causes include congenital defect and spine trauma. This fracture is the most common cause of back pain in adolescent athletes. Some symptoms include lower back pain and spasms in the back and hamstring muscles. You may not experience any symptoms. 

Spondylolysis Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history and perform a physical exam.

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

  • X-rays
  • CT scan
  • Single photon emission computed tomography
  • MRI scan

Spondylolysis Treatment

Restrict Exercise

Your doctor may restrict you from participating in athletic activities for several weeks to several months. In general, this restriction should last until your symptoms are gone.

Back Brace

Your doctor may suggest that you wear a back brace to help relieve pain. You may need about 4-6 weeks of bracing. The brace limits extension of the lower (lumbar) spine.

Physical Therapy

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

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

Surgery

You may need surgery if you have:

  • Injury to your nerves
  • High-grade spondylolisthesis (more than 50 percent slippage)
  • No relief from medicine, rest, activity modification and physical therapy

There are two main types of surgery:

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

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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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