What is spondylolysis?

Spondylolysis is a fracture in the thin bone between two vertebrae, called the pars interarticularis, or pars for short. This fracture can happen during one traumatic injury or because of overuse over a long period of time. It can cause back pain that is usually worse when your child is active, such as when they are playing sports. An x-ray, MRI, or CT scan can detect the fracture.

How is spondylolysis treated?

Most children and young adults with spondylolysis get better without treatment, as the bone slowly heals itself. Physical therapy and a lumbar brace might also help. But if your child’s back pain lasts for more than six months despite rest and physical therapy, they might be a good candidate for a pars repair procedure.

Pars repair is minimally invasive, and it preserves motion in your child’s spine, compared to a spinal fusion. Your child’s surgeon will discuss all available treatment options with your family with the goal of improving your child’s back pain so they can return to an active life.

To perform a pars repair, the surgeon starts by making a small incision in the lower back. Depending on your child’s situation, the surgeon will place a screw or hook through the pars, squeezing the bone back together to provide stability while the fracture heals.

Our Spine Center has the latest surgical technology, including navigation, which gives the surgeon real-time, detailed 3-D models of the spine during the operation.

A pars repair usually takes about three hours in the operating room, and after the procedure, your child will usually spend one or two days in the hospital. Your child’s care team will discuss specific activity limitations, but in general, children usually take one to two weeks off from school and are limited in the types of sports and exercise they can do for two to three months after surgery. Physical therapy can help your child safely regain strength and movement. Bracing is not usually needed.