Objective: Spondylolysis is 1 of the most common sources of low back pain in children and adolescents; however, there is still a great deal of confusion in regard to etiology, clinical presentation, and diagnostic imaging findings. It is imperative for clinicians to recognize that persistent low back pain is strongly indicative of spondylolysis, especially in high-performance athletes. This case series demonstrates a comprehensive diagnostic spectrum of spondylolysis and its treatment in 2 competitive adolescent cheerleaders.
Clinical Features: In case 1, a 12-year-old female competitive cheerleader presented with a gradual onset of subacute low back pain. Comprehensive clinical examination indicated imaging studies that identified bilateral L5 grade 1 stress reaction, consisting of neural arch bone marrow edema (BME). Treatment included spinal adjustments, rehabilitation, and myofascial therapy. In case 2, 15-year-old female competitive cheerleader presented with insidious chronic low back pain that was provocative with extension. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed a left L5 grade 1 pars interarticularis stress reaction. Computed tomography demonstrated right L5 pars grade 3 and left L5 healing spondylolysis. Treatment included spinal adjustments and rehabilitation exercises. She was also seen by a physical therapist who prescribed a lumbar spine flexion brace.
Intervention and Outcome: Diagnosis of BME and spondylolysis led to temporary cessation of cheerleading activities in cases 1 and 2. The individual in case 1 self-discharged with a list of rehabilitation exercises and was lost to follow-up. The individual in case 2 was able to return to sport pain free approximately 5 weeks after seeking treatment.
Conclusion: Spondylolysis is common in adolescent athletes, and the presence of BME precedes spondylolysis. Primary spine providers could consider this diagnosis in any adolescent, especially an athlete, who has persistent low back pain. Timely diagnosis will optimize treatment outcomes.
Author keywords: Spondylolysis; Adolescent; Magnetic Resonance Imaging; Tomography; Emission-Computed; Single-Photon; Manipulation; Spinal
Author affiliations: ANR, SMC, NWK: Radiology Department, Logan University, Chesterfield, Missouri, United States; CBW: Human Performance Center, Logan University, Chesterfield, Missouri, United States
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