The Lowdown on Low Back Pain
(and Other Aches)


What is spondylolysis?

A “spondylolysis” is a broken back bone in the back.

There are five vertebral bones in the lumbar (low back) spine. Each of these bones has front and back sections. The back, or posterior part, is designed to prevent excessive movement when bending.

When there is a “spondylolysis,” the back part of the vertebral bone is broken and there may be instability or weakness of the spine. One in 15 adults has a spondylolysis. It is most common at L5-S1, the lowest disc level in the back. It may be congenital (a birth defect) or can result from an injury. Even a minor injury, such as lifting at work, can cause symptoms.

If a spondylolysis is suspected, your doctor will check your back with an X-ray and an MRI to make sure of the diagnosis. For some, this problem can be treated with medication, exercise, and bracing. Chiropractic and acupuncture may be helpful. Even though the fracture rarely heals without an operation, non-surgical treatment eliminates pain in about two-thirds of patients. When the pain is intolerable, and does not respond to treatment, a fusion may be needed to fix the fracture and the instability. Back fusion surgery can now be done using minimally invasive approaches. Up to ninety percent of patients who have fusion surgery for this problem will recover, and will be able to return to work.



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Last modified: 07/27/08