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Spondylolysis

The human spine is made up of 24 bones called vertebrae. In between each vertebrae and its neighbors are a pair of facet joints – small, flexible joints that connect the vertebrae bones to each other while allowing the spine to bend and move. Each facet joint is connected to its partner by a small bone called the pars interarticularis.

Sometimes, a stress fracture can occur in the pars interarticularis. This condition is called spondylolysis.

What causes spondylolysis?

The cause of spondylolysis is not well understood, but experts believe there are three primary factors:

  • Trauma – Severe and/or repeated stress or injury to the back can result in spondylolysis. Sports, particularly high impact sports like football or gymnastics, are believed to be a common cause of spondylolysis in young people.
  • Degenerative arthritis – The joints of the body deteriorate with age, due to general wear and tear, in a process called arthritis. This natural process can cause spondylolysis and is thought to be the primary cause in adults.
  • Genetics – Some people are believed to have a genetic weakness of the pars interarticularis bone, which significantly increases the likelihood of a facture.

What are symptoms of spondylolysis?

Spondylolysis can range from mild to severe. In mild cases, many patients don’t even feel any symptoms, and the condition is often found by accident during unrelated x-rays or exams. In moderate to severe cases, the most common symptoms are:

  • Lower (lumbar) back pain
  • Stiffness
  • Muscle spasms

Less common symptoms may include pain and/or numbness in the leg(s), particularly when walking or standing.

How is spondylolysis treated?

Since spondylolysis is a bone fracture, it can heal. The first step to treatment after diagnosis is to discontinue any moderate to high intensity physical activity so the fracture can start to mend. In the absence of painful symptoms, the condition can usually be treated with rest and mild at-home exercises. Sometimes a brace may be recommended for additional support.

If the spondylolysis causes pain, Twin Cities Pain Clinic offers a variety of effective treatment options to help manage symptoms:

Schedule an appointment with Twin Cities Pain Clinic to learn how we can help treat your spondylolysis pain.

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