Spondylolysis is a defect of the wing-shaped pars of the vertebrae (the pars intra-articularis). The defect can be congenital, meaning that you were born with it, or it can be acquired later in life. Because the defect is in the area of the vertebrae that connects the front (vertebral body) to the back (posterior elements), a spondylolysis may allow one vertebra to slide forward or backward over the bone below. This can cause compression or squeezing of the spinal cord or nerve roots.
Some people are born missing part of the wing-shaped region of the vertebra, or this area can become damaged from strenuous physical activity, especially during adolescents. Some athletes – especially weight lifters, football players, gymnasts, and divers – are at increased risk of developing this condition.
Some people with spondylolysis have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, the most common symptom is lower back pain. It might feel like a muscle strain that radiates to the buttocks and back of the thighs.
Spondylolysis starts out as a stress fracture, and most people will recover with conservative treatment. The first steps are pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen, and rest, which means stopping the activity that aggravated it in the first place. At the same time, you should continue gentle stretching and strengthening exercises. Surgery is rarely indicated, but you may need to wear a brace for a while to really give the stress fracture a rest and a chance to heal.