Dr. Marci Goolsby, 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 is a 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.