Child Orthopedics

Frequently Asked Questions

My 14-year old son was just diagnosed with "spondylolysis." Will this heal on its own?

Spondylolysis refers to a defect in a vertebra in the lower back. The area of the bone called the pars interarticularis is affected. This are of bone forms part of a ring of bone around the spinal cord and spinal nerves.

When spondylolysis is present the back part of the vertebra and the facet joint aren't connected to each other like they should be--except by soft tissue. The bone has fractured and tried to recover, but it never completely heals.

A recent study of young athletes (ages 12-20 years) showed that spondylolysis can heal when it only affects one side of the spine. Full healing can take up to three months and requires stopping any activities that aggravate the problem. Defects on both sides of the vertebra are less likely to heal. Greater motion across the defect reduces the chances of fusion even with treatment.

Conservative treatment is usually always the first step. Physical therapy, exercises to stabilize the spine, and drugs to control pain and muscle spasm are first. A back brace or corset may be tried. Surgery is possible but usually only as a final option.

Stephen F. Miller, MD, et al. Long-Term Functional and Anatomical Follow-up of Early Detected Spondylolysis in Young Athletes. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. June 2004. Vol. 32. No. 4. Pp. 928-933.

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