Pars interarticularis injury in elite athletes - The role of imaging in diagnosis and management

Eur J Radiol. 2018 Nov:108:28-42. doi: 10.1016/j.ejrad.2018.08.029. Epub 2018 Sep 1.


Injuries of the lumbar neural arch, in particular the pars interarticularis, are widely considered to be due to abnormal bone stress secondary to repetitive loading/shearing, and are a common pathology and a main cause of lower back pain in elite athletes across a range of sports. Medical imaging plays a pivotal role in the diagnosis, monitoring and prognostication of neural arch injury. Early detection is highly desirable in the young elite athlete, as early injuries have been shown to require shorter recovery time and have a higher potential of full healing, whilst accurate grading of injury allows appropriate rehabilitation planning. Various imaging modalities are used in the diagnosis and management of pars stress injury, each with their strengths and weaknesses. There is currently a lack of general consensus over the most appropriate imaging pathway for neural arch injury in this specific group of patients. In this review article, we present an overview of neural arch injury, the various imaging modalities used and their imaging appearances with a brief pictorial review, and a proposed imaging algorithm with special considerations in the young elite athletes.

Keywords: Elite athletes; MRI; Neural arch; Pars interarticularis; SPECT CT; Stress fracture.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Athletes*
  • Athletic Injuries / complications
  • Athletic Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / etiology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Spondylolysis / diagnosis
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon / methods