Winston Lee L. Ac, Ph.D, KMD
Spondylolysis is a defect or stress fracture in the pars interarticularis of the vertebral arch. The vast majority of cases occur in the lower lumbar vertebrae (L5). Some of cases are congenital but it can happen due to extreme exercise or sudden impact on body. According to the statistics, this condition is present in up to 6% of the population. In other words, it’s very common disease.
However, not all the patient of this condition recognize this disease. The vast majority never feel any problem or pain in their life. Because the area which spondylolysis take place is very deep inside in our body and iliopsoas muscle, erector muscle and other strong muscle are supporting our spine very well. Therefore, as long as this bundle of muscles are existing and are strong enough to uphold the spine, the patient would not suffer actual pain. In this case, we can expect that the patient with no pain would not have taken X-ray or CT scan to figure out this disease. They can live well without noticing this underlying disease.
If the patient feels some pain, the reason should be ‘spondylolisthesis’. Spondylolisthesis is the displacement of one spinal vertebra compared to another. This condition can be aggravated by instability of spondylolysis. When the vertebra bone has been moved to forward, the bone is inevitably compressing the spinal cord in the spinal canal. This situation is called ‘pinched nerve’ and this one cause lower back pain, radiating pain to both legs and tingling in legs.
Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis can be diagnosed with simple X-ray examination. If the patient is diagnosed as this condition, they need to be careful of maintaining the spine in daily life. Because they congenitally have this instability than other people and the spine must be strengthen by building up muscle of back and abs. In fact, many professional athletics in gymnastics, football players have this condition due to extreme impacts and exercises. But most of them don’t have the pain or symptom because their back muscle and abs are strong enough to support the spine despite of its instability.
It’s very unusual to undergo surgery because of the spondylolysis only. Because the symptom of this condition is not that severe to take the huge risk of open surgery. Most of cases are to take non-operative and conservative treatment with acupuncture, physical therapy for treating pain, tingling and radiating feeling. We, Oriental Medicine Doctor and acupuncturist are able to utilize prescribing herbal medicine to decrease inflammation and soothe nerve damage. Spontaneously, steady exercise is required to support the vertebra bone and it can spread out the weight bearing of the spine. If this entire mission is completed by patient and doctor, spondylolysis is not a serious disease to be scared.