Stress Fracture of the Spine

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi

stress fractureKnown in the medical community as spondylolysis, a stress fracture of the spine is one of the most common overuse injuries that can occur in the spinal column. Here we will detail how a person can sustain a stress fracture, as well as a few treatment and prevention tips.

What Causes a Stress Fracture?

Spondylolysis generally presents itself in the lower region of the spine in the fourth and fifth vertebrae. Stress fractures occur when excess and repetitive force is placed on the back. Spondylolysis is most common in young athletes who sustain the injury as a result of repetitive overuse while participating in sports, especially the following:

  • Football
  • Weightlifting
  • Gymnastics

These sports all require the athlete to place a substantial amount of force on their lower back. Over time this excessive force will result in a microscopic crack in one of the lumbar vertebra.

Stress fractures can also be genetic, so it’s a good idea to find out if your family has a history of stress fractures to see if you, or your child is at greater risk.

Treatment & Prevention

Stress fractures are usually best diagnosed by x-ray and physical examination.

If the stress fracture is minor and there are no other issues present, rest is the most effective form of treatment. This can be supplemented with pain medications, back bracing, and sometimes pain injections. However, if the affected vertebra is protruding into the surrounding nerves and musculature, minimally invasive surgery may be necessary to prevent permanent nerve damage and chronic pain. Most often in these cases, a spinal fusion will be the most beneficial procedure.

The best prevention is to limit your engagement in sports and physical activities that place excessive force on the lower back. When this is not an option, playing sports on grass or mats (rather than concrete), and taking adequate rests between training periods can decrease your risk of a stress fracture.

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