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What is a Stress Fracture of the Spine?

Overhead view of diagram of pars fracture locations on a vertebrae

Dr. Marci Goolsby, primary sports medicine physician, explains stress fractures of the spine and how they can be treated to get athletes back in the game.

“Stress fractures in the back, also known as spondylolysis, usually occur in the pars interarticularis the posterior or back part of the spine. These are most often seen in adolescent athletes such as gymnasts where there is a great deal of extension and landing with an arched back, or football linemen who extend their lower backs when they are blocking,” says Dr. Goolsby

“The examination usually reveals tenderness over the lumbar spine in the lower back and pain with extension, particularly when leaning back standing on one leg versus the other.

“Treatment for these types of stress fractures is rest from extension activities, which often means a period of recovery ranging from a couple of weeks to several months depending on the severity. Similarly, treatment is individualized depending on the injury, age and the demands of the sport.

Dr. Goolsby cautions, “If ignored, the fracture can also develop on the opposite side causing a break in both pars, which can lead to slippage of the spine or spondylolisthesis. The result can be chronic pain and even nerve damage. In this spondylolisthesis condition, if severe, surgical fusion may be required, although this is rare.”


Dr. Marci Goolsby, primary care sports medicine physicianDr. Marci Goolsby is a primary sports medicine physician in the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She trained at the University of California Los Angeles, where she served as team physician for the UCLA women’s basketball, volleyball, softball, and baseball teams. She has also served as an event physician at marathons and triathlons. Her main areas of clinical and research interest are stress fractures and the Female Athlete Triad. As a prior collegiate basketball player, Dr. Goolsby also has a special interest in the care of basketball players. She is a consulting team physician for the New York Liberty.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.