Spondylolysis is a specific defect in the connection amidst the vertebrae. This defect can cause the formation of small stress fractures in the vertebrae that can weaken the bones where it might slip out of place. The condition is the usual cause of low back pain.
Many individuals with spondylolysis do not have any symptoms and not even aware that they have the condition. Once the symptoms arise, low back pain is the most common. The pain generally spreads all over the lower back and strikingly resembles a muscle strain.
The pain is aggravated by any strenuous activity or exercise. The symptoms often manifest during the growth spurt of adolescence. The usual range in which an individual is diagnosed with spondylolysis is 15-16 years old.
What are the causes?
Spondylolysis often develops from the weakening in a region of the vertebra, specifically the pars interarticularis which is a thin piece of bone that links the upper and lower segments of the facet joints. The facet joints connect the vertebrae directly above and beneath to form a functional unit that allows spinal movement.
The precise cause of weakness of the par interarticularis is still unknown. In one theory, it suggests that genetics might be a factor where some are born with a thin vertebra which puts them at high risk for fractures. In other theories, repetitive trauma to the lower back can weaken the pars interarticularis.
Is it common?
Spondylolysis is the usual cause of low back pain among children and the likely cause of low back pain among individuals younger than 26 years of age. The condition is prevalent among children and teens engaged in sports that strain the lower back or cause continuous over-stretching of the spine such as weightlifting, gymnastics and football. In addition, the condition is often seen among males than females.
The initial treatment for spondylolysis is usually conservative and aimed on lowering the pain, allowing the fracture to heal and ensuring that normal functioning is restored.
The individual should take a break from sports and other activities until the pain settles. An over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen might be given to lower the inflammation and pain. Stronger medications might be prescribed if NSAIDs are not effective.
A program of exercise and/or physical therapy can help in allowing pain-free movement as well as improve flexibility and muscular strength.
In severe cases of spondylolysis, a back support or brace might be used to stabilize the lower back as the fracture recuperates. Steroid injections might also help in reducing the inflammation and reduce the pain.
Are there possible complications?
The discomfort caused by spondylolysis can lead to diminished mobility and inactivity. It is important to note that inactivity can result to weight gain, bone density loss and diminished muscle strength and flexibility in other body parts. Additionally, spondylolysis might progress until one or several vertebrae move out of place.