Low Back Pain in Young Athletes Could be Spondylolysis


Low back pain in a young athlete can be much more than muscle soreness or pain after a tough game. Athletes who participate in sports like volleyball, dance, football, diving, baseball, hockey and gymnastics are at risk for Spondylolysis.

If a young athlete is suffering from low back pain for more than a few weeks, they should be evaluated for Spondylolysis.

What is Spondylolysis?
Spondylolysis is a stress fracture in part of the vertebrae that occurs due to repetitive stress and is usually found in the lumbar or lower area of the spine.

Kathy Boehmer PT, MHS, SCS, ATC, Specialty Program Coordinator for St. Elizabeth Sports Medicine says, “Spondylolysis can occur in athletes that haven’t reached full skeletal maturity. When a young athlete participates in a sport that has repetitive hyperextension of the spine, it puts a lot of stress on the vertebrae and may lead to a stress fractures.”

To diagnose Spondylolysis, the physician will order an MRI, or bone scan, to look closely at the vertebrae and the surrounding soft tissue.

How do you Treat Spondylolysis?
The best way to treat a Spondylolysis is to do the one thing a young athlete doesn’t want to do — rest. Rest from the repetitive motion that caused the stress fracture allows the fracture to heal.

Boehmer adds, “We know how hard it is for an athlete to come off the court, or a dancer to miss a recital, but rest is one of the best treatments and ignoring the pain today could mean a lifetime of pain.”

After a period of rest physical therapy can begin. The athlete can usually return to the play after they are pain free and have a strong core to better support the back and spine.

If left untreated, a Spondylolysis can weaken the fractured vertebra so much that it is unable to maintain its proper position in the spine and lead to slippage (spondylolisthesis). This may lead to life-long back pain.

Boehmer noted that although you may not always be able to prevent a Spondylolysis, a strong core and good flexibility can provide the stability demanding repetitive motion sports need.

If you know a young athlete that has experienced low back pain for more than a few weeks, call today to make an appointment at St. Elizabeth Sports Medicine at (859) 301-5600 for an evaluation.