Fact: spondylolysis occurs in three to six percent of the population. If I can do math correctly, that’s approximately 204-408 million people walking around the world with this condition. So, if this many people have it, what exactly is it?
By definition, spondylolysis can be described as a defect or the degeneration of the posterior part of the spine known as the pars interarticularis. This is typically caused by a stress fracture from injury, trauma, or overtraining in a sport or activity. Therefore, young children who participate regularly in sports such as gymnastics, football, dance or any sport that is classified as flexing the spine forward, bending back or turned creating mechanical stress – they are more at risk of developing this structural disorder.
In a seemingly odd, but semi-common occurrence, spondylolysis can show up in adults with no prior history of injury or sports participation. Some adults are even known to show no symptoms for years, leaving no trace of the disorder until they are older and start experiencing other related conditions and their symptoms, such as spondylolisthesis, which we will get to next. Other risk factors for spondylolysis include hereditary components and obesity.
As painful as this back condition can be, it is not uncommon to have spondylolysis and no symptoms. And when spondylolysis is not treated in a timely fashion, mostly because people don’t know they have it, it can lead to spondylolisthesis – a condition where one vertebra slips forward onto another due to the degeneration of the bone or stress fracture putting pressure on the vertebra causing it to slip.
Both conditions have similar symptoms and may be hard to decipher between, so lets take a minute to look at each.
Symptoms of spondylolysis include tight hamstrings, and lower back pain. This condition can become a problem for a person when dealing with instability of the spine. Spondylolysis is associated with lumbar disc degeneration, due to the stress put on the nerve roots, which is the root of lower back and leg pain. Spondylolysis can sometimes be misconstrued as sciatica, and you should seek medical attention upon dealing with any pain in your spine.
Because spondylolisthesis most commonly stems from spondylolysis (is your tongue twisted yet from saying these terms over and over? Because mine is!), genetics is a contributing factor when looking at children with the condition. If they are born with weak facet joints - leaving them immune to spondylolysis - then this predisposes them at an early age to spondylolisthesis, even if they are not involved in sports or sustained a concrete injury.
Symptoms for spondylolisthesis include back or buttock pain that runs down the leg, numbness and weakness that runs in one or both legs, difficulty walking, pain that gets worse when you bend, or loss of bladder or bowel control.
Clearly these symptoms seem a little more severe that spondylolsis, however no matter what condition you have, or may think you have, it is imperative to seek medical attention as soon as you feel any of these symptoms.
Check back Wednesday where we will examine common treatment methods for both spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis. In addition, we will pin point how obesity is a huge contributing factor to these conditions.