Athletes present with back pain as a common symptom. Various sports involve repetitive hyperextension of the spine along with axial loading and appear to predispose athletes to the spinal pathology spondylolysis. Many athletes with acute back pain require nonsurgical treatment methods; however, persistent recurrent back pain may indicate degenerative disc disease or spondylolysis. Young athletes have a greater incidence of spondylolysis. Surgical solutions are many, and yet there are relatively few data in the literature on both the techniques and outcomes of spondylolytic repair in athletes. In this study, the authors undertook a review of the surgical techniques and outcomes in the treatment of symptomatic spondylolysis in athletes.
A systematic review of the MEDLINE and PubMed databases was performed using the following key words to identify articles published between 1950 and 2011: “spondylolysis,” “pars fracture,” “repair,” “athlete,” and/or “sport.” Papers on both athletes and nonathletes were included in the review. Articles were read for data on methodology (retrospective vs prospective), type of treatment, number of patients, mean patient age, and mean follow-up.
Eighteen articles were included in the review. Eighty-four athletes and 279 nonathletes with a mean age of 20 and 21 years, respectively, composed the population under review. Most of the fractures occurred at L-5 in both patient groups, specifically 96% and 92%, respectively. The average follow-up period was 26 months for athletes and 86 months for nonathletes. According to the modified Henderson criteria, 84% (71 of 84) of the athletes returned to their sports activities. The time intervals until their return ranged from 5 to 12 months.
For a young athlete with a symptomatic pars defect, any of the described techniques of repair would probably produce acceptable results. An appropriate preoperative workup is important. The ideal candidate is younger than 20 years with minimal or no listhesis and no degenerative changes of the disc. Limited participation in sports can be expected from 5 to 12 months postoperatively.