Spondylolysis

Spondylolysis at a glance

  • Spondylolysis is a defect or fracture of one or both of the wing-shaped parts of a vertebra (bone in the spine). This can cause the bone to slide forward or backward over another vertebra, a condition called spondylolisthesis.
  • Spondylolysis can be caused by a birth defect, sports injury, or trauma.
  • Symptoms of spondylolysis include lower back pain, leg pain, and the feeling of spinal instability.
  • Treatment should start with rest and stretching to alleviate pain, but back surgery may be necessary for severe cases of spondylolysis with spondylolisthesis.

Causes of spondylolysis

Spondylolysis is commonly caused by a stress fracture or broken vertebra from trauma that never fully heals.

Spondylolysis can also be caused by a birth defect, in which one or both of the wing-shaped parts of the vertebra is defective from birth.

Symptoms of spondylolysis

Spondylolysis is more commonly seen in younger people and often affects the lower region of the spine.

Spondylolysis may not cause any symptoms, but the effects of spondylolysis can include lower back pain and leg pain, which generally feel like muscle strains.

Sometimes the fracture or break in the vertebra can cause it to slide out of place in relation to the other vertebrae, a condition called spondylolisthesis. This can cause spinal instability, as well as compress the spinal nerves.

Spondylolytic spondylolisthesis symptoms can include:

  • Back spasms that cause the back and hamstring muscles to feel tight or stiff
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pain in the buttocks
  • Pain extending through the legs or other extremities due to compressed nerves
  • Sciatica

Treatment of spondylolysis

Home treatment to alleviate pain associated with spondylolysis includes resting after sports and other strenuous activity, strengthening exercises and stretching, and over-the-counter pain medications such as Advil or other ibuprofen. Be sure to talk to your pharmacist before purchasing anti-inflammatories as these medications may be contraindicated as they may interact with other medications and medical conditions.

An orthopedic physician can also administer epidural steroid injections to relieve pain or suggest physical therapy options such as massages, core exercises, and spinal support (bracing).

For advanced spinal instability due to the vertebra sliding out of position (spondylolisthesis), surgery may be necessary. Minimally invasive repair surgery may be an option for less-advanced spondylolisthesis cases, while spinal fusion and other techniques may be necessary for more advanced cases.

If you are experiencing spondylolysis symptoms from an injury or other trauma, contact us to request an appointment with our spinal specialists to learn more about the treatment options available.