What is Spondylolysis?

Spondylolysis is a small stress fracture in a vertebral bone, is a common cause of low back pain in young athletes. Children and adolescents’ spines are still developing, leaving weak points in the lower back that can fracture from repetitive strain. These fractures most often occur in the pars interarticularis, a thin part of the vertebra that connects joints along the back of the spine.

What is Spondylosthesis?

Spondylosthesis is often caused by sports require repeated overstretching, including gymnastics, football, and weightlifting. Although many people with spondylosis have no symptoms, the overuse injury may feel like a muscle strain and cause pain in the buttocks and hamstrings. If these symptoms are present, they usually worsen with activity and improve with rest.


Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis do not always cause immediate symptoms. In fact, some people live with spondylolisthesis for years before the slipped vertebra affects nearby nerves and causes pain. Others may experience lower back pain only when performing certain activities. While many young athletes will recover without treatment, symptoms may appear during the teenage growth spurt. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Hamstring pain or tightness
  • Deep lower back ache
  • Leg pain that reaches down to the foot
  • Burning sensation or numbness in the legs
  • Weakness in the legs

Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis Care at MedStar Montgomery

MedStar Montgomery Medical Center’s multidisciplinary team of experts provide personalized spine care, tailoring your treatment plan to the severity of your condition, any discomfort or pain you may be experiencing, and your goals for getting back to the activities you enjoy.  Our initial exam for a suspected spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis generally includes:

  • Taking your medical history to understand when your pain or discomfort began, and when the pain feels most severe.
  • Physical exam performed by our orthopedists to determine where your pain is localized.  Physicians may ask you to move and bend in different directions.
  • Imaging tests to examine the spine and nerves themselves using state-of-the-art imaging techniques, which may include:
    • X-ray, which can help determine if the vertebrae bones in your spine, which can show the presence of a vertebra fracture or a slipped vertebra;
    • MRI, which uses powerful magnets and computer technology to create a picture of your muscles, tissues, nerves, and disks to visualize very small fractures that may not be visible on an X-ray; and/or
    • CT scan, which combines X-ray technology with computers to provide a very detailed picture of the spine and can show nerve compression, ruling out other possible sources of back pain like a herniated disk.

Our doctors generally recommend non-surgical treatments to relieve spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis pain and discomfort. These treatments may include rest, prescription or over-the-counter medications, and physical therapy to strengthen the muscles supporting your spine. Injections to relieve pain and reduce inflammation may be recommended for pain management.

Children and adolescents may benefit from wearing a brace for a short time to allow back fractures to heal. Your doctor may also prescribe abdominal strengthening exercises to provide added lower back support.

For severe spondylolisthesis requiring surgery, our skilled orthopedic spine surgeons specialize in advanced surgical procedures for spondylolisthesis treatment. Traditional and minimally invasive surgical techniques including spinal fusion procedures to stabilize the spine and relieve pressure on the nerve and spinal cord are available right at MedStar Montgomery.

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For more information or to schedule an appointment with a neurosurgery specialist, call 301-570-8554

Neurosurgery Specialists

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