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What is lumbar spondylolysis?

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Lumbar spondylolysis refers to a defect in the connection between vertebrae of the spinal column, and is a very common cause of back pain, explains Cleveland Clinic. Spondylolysis gradually spreads across the lower back and feels similar to a muscle strain, worsening with strenuous exercise and physical activity.

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Many patients experience no symptoms and don't even know they have the condition until back pain is present, notes Cleveland Clinic. Spondylolysis affects roughly 3 to 7 percent of Americans, as of 2015, and is most common during the growth spurts of young adolescents.

The condition typically results from weakness in the pars interarticularis, the thin layer of bone connecting the upper and lower segments of the facet joints that link the vertebrae to permit movement of the spine, explains Cleveland Clinic. The main causes of the condition are genetics and overuse resulting from activities such as gymnastics, weight lifting and football, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Diagnosis of spondylolysis is confirmed through X-ray, bone scan, computerized tomography and/or MRI scan, explains Massachusetts General Hospital.

Initial treatment is aimed at reducing pain and allowing the fracture to heal, so that the patient may return to normal function, explains Cleveland Clinic. This often includes taking a break from sports and other activities until the pain subsides, and using over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, to reduce pain and inflammation. Physical therapy further helps to increase pain-free movement and improve flexibility and muscle strength.

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