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Spondylolysisspondylos meaning vertebra and lysis meaning defect — is a Greek term that refers to a hairline crack (stress fracture) in a thin bone (pars interarticularis) that joins one vertebra to the next in your spinal column.

Orthopaedic spine specialists Steve Paragioudakis, MD, and Marc Menkowitz, MD, and our team at the Center for the Functional Restoration of the Spine (CFRS) provide outstanding care for spinal conditions such as spondylolysis.

Here’s what you need to know about spondylolysis and your child’s risk for developing this potentially painful condition.

What causes spondylolysis?

Also called a pars fracture, spondylolysis frequently develops in childhood or adolescence. Researchers believe the condition may be caused by thinner bones related to genetics, degenerative disc disease, or narrowing of the area where nerve roots exit the spinal canal.

Spondylolysis is most common in young athletes participating in gymnastics, weightlifting, football, and other athletic activities that stress the spine or require repetitive hyperextension of the spine.

However, children under five and adults who have never participated in sports can also develop spondylolysis. 

What are the symptoms of spondylolysis?

Some people with spondylolysis don’t ever develop symptoms or may not notice a problem until adulthood.

However, symptoms related to spondylolysis include:

  • Lower back pain that’s often mistaken for muscle strain
  • Back pain that worsens with physical activity
  • Increased inward curvature of the lower back (hyperlordosis)
  • Increased tightening of hamstring muscles in the thighs
  • Shooting or burning nerve pain that radiates down the back of the thighs

Stress fractures related to spondylolysis can eventually weaken the bone enough that the affected vertebra shifts out of place, causing spondylolisthesis. This condition can cause significant spinal instability, chronic pain, and decreased mobility that may require surgical repair.

How do you treat spondylolysis?

Your treatment at CFRS starts with a thorough evaluation that may include imaging studies to confirm the diagnosis. Our specialists then make every effort to manage spondylolysis with conservative therapies, such as:

  • Rest and activity modification
  • Physical therapy 
  • Temporary bracing to relieve strain on the back
  • Oral medications to ease inflammation and discomfort
  • Steroid injections to reduce inflammation and soothe irritated nerves
  • Exercise routines that strengthen back and abdominal muscles

Spondylolysis typically responds well to conservative therapies. Furthermore, most patients eventually resume an active lifestyle with early diagnosis and treatment.

If conservative measures fail, depending on your age, symptoms, and overall activity level, you may benefit from minimally invasive spinal decompression and fusion to relieve pain and stabilize the spine.

Schedule an evaluation at the Center for the Functional Restoration of the Spine today. Call the nearest office in either Toms River, Shrewsbury, or Edison, New Jersey, or request an appointment online.

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