Expert opinion and controversies in sports and musculoskeletal medicine: the diagnosis and treatment of spondylolysis in adolescent athletes

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2007 Apr;88(4):537-40. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2007.01.007.


Although spondylolysis is relatively common in adolescent athletes, there are substantial disagreements in the literature concerning the best methods for diagnosing and treating the condition. Controversy particularly arises regarding the optimal use of available imaging modalities in the diagnosis of athletes with suspected pars defects and the extent of activity restriction or brace use required for appropriate treatment. Because there have been no controlled trials on the treatment of spondylolysis and only a very limited number of studies addressing potential imaging strategies, it is difficult to develop true evidence-based guidelines for this condition. Given the current state of the literature, it is our impression that nuclear imaging with single photon emission computed tomography followed by computed tomography, with a limited role for plain radiography, remains the standard for appropriately diagnosing a symptomatic pars lesion. Treatment hinges on activity restriction for an amount of time adequate to allow for symptom resolution and, when possible, potential bony healing followed by a progressive sport-specific rehabilitation program. The biomechanic effects of brace use in this population are not well understood, but there may be some detrimental effects to the use of a brace and there currently is no evidence that the routine use of a rigid brace results in any significant improvement in radiographic or functional outcome.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Spondylolysis / diagnosis*
  • Spondylolysis / rehabilitation
  • Sports Medicine / trends*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed