Spondylolysis is an injury or defect to the pars interarticularis, a bone structure that connects the spine’s facet joints. This condition tends to occur before the age of 20, so we often see it in young athletes, particularly in swimmers, wrestlers, divers, gymnasts, football players, weight lifters, and cricketers. Any sport that requires repetitive hyperextension and rotation in the lower back will put a person at a higher risk.

Roughly 3-6% of the population will be diagnosed with spondylolysis, more often males than females. For young athletes, the likelihood of spondylolysis is 47% greater. Although spondylolysis is defined as a bony defect, it presents as a crack or stress fracture. In severe cases, the condition weakens the vertebra enough that it shifts out of place, a condition called spondylolysthesis.

Spondylolysis in young athletes is usually caused by repetitive stress and overuse of the spine. The pain and symptoms associated with this condition tend to develop gradually. Athletes might notice lower back pain worsening over time. In the case of lumbar or lower back spondylolysis, that pain can radiate into the buttocks or thighs. Pain usually gets worse after activities and stress, and may inhibit athletic performance. Sometimes a case of spondylolysis is preceded by trauma to the spine.

The surest way to detect spondylolysis in a patient is with a CT scan. These tests can present a clear image of the pars fracture and let us get an accurate picture of the defect.

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We can further support our diagnosis with something called a unilateral extension test, where positive cases will exhibit pain when they hyperextend the lumbar spine while standing on one leg.

For most cases of spondylolysis, conservative treatment is enough to reduce painful symptoms and begin the healing process. During this time of treatment, it’s important for our patient to take a break from any physical activities that aggravate the pain. We may even use a brace to help protect the injured area.

Physical therapy is an important part in addressing spondylolysis and helping young athletes return to their full potential, and you can trust MOTUS to provide the best treatment. Our program will focus on addressing the underlying causes, not just the pain itself. Your clinician will design a recovery program that will target any potential issues related to spondylolysis for the long term, including strength and flexibility training, stabilization work, and increasing healthy, functional movements. For young athletes in particular it’s important to address the causes of pain, and to teach healthy habits for long term health and success.

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