Spondylolysis in Young Athletes: Know the Signs

Sports such as cheerleading and swimming put a lot of demand on a young athlete’s back due to repetitive maneuvers that require hyperextension and quick changes of direction.

Hyperextension occurs when joints, tendons or muscles are extended beyond their normal limit or range. Some injuries due to hyperextension of the back occur suddenly, and are commonly known as a back strain. Others occur more gradually, especially if the body doesn’t have time to recover properly.

Back injuries are the most common cause of back pain in young athletes. Over time, repeated hyperextension of the lower back can cause:

  • Spondylolysis – A stress fracture of the bones in the lower spine, or lumbar vertebrae. The pain usually feels like a strained muscle along the lower back and gets more painful with vigorous exercise. The typical age an athlete is diagnosed with spondylolysis is between 15 and 16 years old (during the teenage growth spurt).
  • Spondylolisthesis – The lumbar vertebrae slips forward. This often occurs when an athlete with a stress fracture continues to participate in their sport, and can lead to continued pain that often requires medical treatment.

It’s important that athletes experiencing lower back injuries are restricted from activity until evaluated by their pediatrician or a pediatric sports medicine specialist.

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