Lumbar Spondylolysis

Where is it painful for a client with Lumbar Spondylolysis?


Classical patient features for Lumbar Spondylolysis

Age: Younger athletes participating in high-risk activities (accounts for up to 47% of athletes presenting with back pain)

Gender: males more prevalent than females 2:1. However high prevalence in female athletes with poor bone health (special questions for menstrual disturbance or relative energy deficiency in sport)

sport: cricket, tennis, ballet, divers, gymnastics, soccer, volleyball

Area of symptoms for Lumbar Spondylolysis

– Localised unilateral back pain

– Can refer in the buttock and leg but uncommon

– If crosses the midline consider other differentials

– if persistent pain and bilateral may provide evidence for Spondylysthesis

Characteristics of symptoms of a client with Lumbar Spondylolysis

– Sharp, catching pain with an extension activity

– dull aching with sustained positions of aggravation

– intermittent pain but persistently bought on by aggravating activities

Typical activity capability/restriction for Lumbar Spondylolysis

– Insidious: patient often still high activity and often have not changed their participation in sport

– Acute: ie fracture pain will be intense enough for the participant to be removed from the activity

– will progressively reduce sporting performance as symptoms are provoked due to the worsening nature

– stress response at the bone will accumulate over time or throughout a season

Behaviour of symptoms for Lumbar Spondylolysis

Ease: rest and avoidance or alterations to aggravating activities (can be in the form of activity modification or general factors such as technique changes ie fast bowler)

Agg: lumbar extension, combined movements, repeated movements, fast movements especially if at the end of rance

24-hour pattern: activity dependant

Typical history for a client with Lumbar Spondylolysis

– Participation in activities with bending forces that have a unilateral bias (rotation or side-flexion)

– can have hyperextension incident with acute onset (more likely fracture)

– can have insidious onset (more likely in the earlier stages of a bone stress injury)

– will get worse with activity (no warm-up effect)

– can be brought on by an increase in load (training or gameplay secondary to demographic)

Pathobiological mechanisms underlying Lumbar Spondylolysis

– Nociceptive with acute presentations.

– The longer the symptoms have been evident, especially if long term rehabilitation is required, the patient may have an increase in nociplastic pain

Proposed pathology for Lumbar Spondylolysis

– Most commonly affects the pars interarticularis in the region of the posterior vertebral arch

– The term includes a range of bony lesions that occur at this site of injury

– Imaging has shown that the injury commonly involves the adjoining pedicle and lamina

Physical impairments & associated structure/tissue sources (ie P/E findings)


– pain with lumbar extension

– increased pain with lumbar combine movements (extension + unilateral bias)

– pain with unilateral lumbar PAIVM

– increased lumbar lordosis // if adaptive might have a reduced lordosis

– reduced motor control // assess with normal activities and at end of the range

– reduced lumbar body schema // worse if the pain has been around for a long period of time, evidence for nociplastic influences

– hip flexor and hamstring tightness

– abdominal and glute weakness

– hypermobility in the Lx


– reduced extension range in thoracic spine and/or hips

– reduced independent control into extension in spine and hips


– poor dynamic control at the end of range

– excessive extension moments

– bracing

Typical contributing factors for Lumbar Spondylolysis

– participation in high-risk activities

– Weight

– Genetics

– hypermobility in the lumbar spine


– menstrual disturbance

– malnutrition

Relevant precautions/ contraindications to P/E and treatment

– with acute onset could have a fracture with nonunion // if suspect this need to send to hospital for imagining ASAP

– if the patient has neuro symptoms // referral straight away

– if the patient has a suspected stress fracture// imaging is required and referral to a sports physician for medical management to align with rehabilitation

Relevant diagnostic imaging for Lumbar Spondylolysis

X-ray: may pick up a larger defect however little diagnostic accuracy and can not rule out the presence of pathology, therefore not recommended

CT: will identify stress fracture however is likely to provide sufficient detail to identify a stress response in the early stages

MRI: Gold standard, will alert to stress injuries in early stages as well as fractures

Note: may need scans throughout rehab period to determine healing response prior to progression // especially with contact sports

Typical prognosis for Lumbar Spondylolysis

– 92% return to sport with conservative management

– for boney stress and united stress fractures return to sport timeframe is between 3-6 months

– for complex stress fractures and when there is non-union, return to sport can take up to 12 months

Management/treatment selection for Lumbar Spondylolysis

Phases of rehabilitation

– stage 1: protection and fracture healing (~0=8 weeks)

– stage 2: reloading phase (~ 9-16 weeks)

– stage 3: return to full function and sport (~17 weeks onwards)

Note: the stage of pathology will determine the speed of rehabilitation

Relative load reduction (high-level evidence)

– period of rest from the aggravating activity indicated in pain dominant presentations // non-negotiable if fracture present


– low levels of evidence for both taping and bracing

– need to provide clear instructions to restrictions in spine loading in conjunction with other members of the medical team

Rehabilitation objectives:

Local (no evidence)

– mobility into flexion

– muscles control and performance safe to begin in the non-provocative inner range

– progress loading progressively with strengthening, especially at the end-stage when moving into extension


– Abdominal strengthening ( mid-level evidence for TA activation)

– (early stage) remove the extension from the lumbar spine (increase extension at thoracic and hips)

– (early stage) muscles control and performance safe to begin in the non-provocative inner range


– consider biomechanics and technique // are we able to redistribute the load somewhere else

– posture

– address contributing factors and cardiovascular fitness


– with failed conservative treatment surgery is indicated in ~9% of cases

High evidence in the back pain world for ensuring the use a biopsychosocial approach when planning for optimal rehabilitation

Differential diagnosis for Lumbar Spondylolysis

Spondylolisthesis // bilateral pain, neurological symptoms

Disc pathology// flexion pattern and pain that crosses the midline

Spinal cord injuries // positive neurological or neurological symptoms

Cord equina // B&B, saddle anesthesia, bilateral symptoms

Muscle strains // dynamic assessment

Central canal stenosis // neurological symptoms, bilateral symptoms

Nerve root // positive neurological or neurodynamic findings

Cancer // subjective special questions

Ankylosing spondylitis // inflammatory special questions


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