What Is Spondylolysis and How Can It Be Treated Nonsurgically?


Lower back pain is so common in our upright species that almost 80% of men, women, and kids suffer from lower back pain at least once in their lives. A common reason for lower back pain in children who play sports and athletes of all ages is spondylolysis. 

If you have spondylolysis, you have stress fractures in your vertebral bones from the impact of the jumping, colliding, and weight lifting that you do during sports and sports training. The stress fractures usually occur on one or both sides of the lower fourth or fifth vertebrae.

Over time, untreated stress fractures in your vertebrae weaken the vertebral bone, so that it starts to slip out of its normal place in the spinal column. If your fractured vertebrae are out of alignment, you have a complication of spondylolysis that’s called spondylolisthesis.  

When you visit the Mountain Spine & Pain Physicians office in Denver, Colorado for treatment, Dr. Brian Fuller first evaluates your spine to see if spondylolysis is the cause of your pain or if there are other factors, too. He may order X-rays and other imaging studies to take a closer look at your vertebrae.

Dr. Fuller believes that most pain conditions — including spondylolysis — are best treated without surgery or invasive procedures. Here, he shares some effective nonsurgical ways to correct spondylolysis, avoid complications such as spondylolisthesis, and allow your back to heal itself.

The power of rest

The most important part of healing spondylolysis is to stop doing the activities that caused it. If you or your child play sports, take a break until the fractures have healed. 

In addition to avoiding sports, Dr. Fuller may recommend limiting other activities that stress your lower back for a few days. You should be able to control minor pain by icing the affected area with a wrapped ice pack for up to 20 minutes every 2-3 hours for the first 2 days. If your pain hasn’t improved by that point, contact us right away.

As your back pain resolves, Dr. Fuller may recommend physical therapy (PT). A targeted PT routine can help you strengthen the back muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support your spine. A strong spine and core are less susceptible to stress fractures.

Two nonsurgical ways to heal: PRP and stem-cell therapy 

If rest doesn’t resolve your pain, Dr. Fuller offers two different types of regenerative medicine that use your body’s own healing substances to mend your fractures. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy concentrates the growth factors and proteins in your blood. Stem-cell therapy transforms stem cells in your hip bone marrow into new vertebral bone cells. For spondylolysis, Dr. Fuller may administer both PRP and stem-cell therapy to bolster their effects.

Our experts at Mountain Spine & Pain Physicians administer PRP and bone-marrow treatments in the privacy and comfort of the office. Each procedure only takes about 1-2 hours to perform.

PRP comes from your arm

If you’ve ever given blood for a blood test, you’re already familiar with the procedure that we use for PRP therapy. Dr. Fuller or his assistant draws just a few tablespoons of blood from your arm, using a syringe. He then spins the blood in a special centrifuge that separates the solids from the liquid (plasma), and then further isolates the platelets from other solids, such as blood cells. Once your PRP is ready, Dr. Fuller then injects it into the affected site using guided imagery for accuracy.  

Platelets contain growth factors and proteins that your body uses to repair wounds and rebuild tissues. The concentration of platelets in PRP serum is about 5-10 times higher than that of unconcentrated blood. 

The PRP subdues any inflammation in the soft tissues surrounding your fracture, and promotes the growth of new collagen and elastin in the tissues and also in the bone matrix. Over the next week to months, your vertebrae grow stronger and the surrounding tissues become more flexible. 

Stem cells come from your hip

Stem-cell therapy is slightly more involved than PRP because Dr. Fuller must remove some bone marrow from your back upper hip bone with a syringe. You may choose to have twilight or general anesthesia for this part of the procedure. He uses a centrifuge to concentrate the stem cells, and then injects them directly into your fractures.

Stem cells have the ability to transform themselves into other types of cells, including bone cells. The stem-cell serum creates healthy, new bone so that your fractures heal and your treated vertebrae get stronger. When administered early enough, regenerative medicine can help you avoid surgery or other invasive procedures. 

Contact us by phone or use our online booking form to see if your back pain and spondylolysis can be alleviated with PRP or stem-cell therapies. 

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