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Pars defect and spondylolisthesis

What is a pars defect?

Pars defect is usually a small hairline crack on part of the spine called the ‘pars interarticularis’. This can remain stable and give no symptoms at all. Sometimes, it will cause the bone to gradually slip forward over the ‘sacral vertebrae’. This is called ‘spondylolisthesis’.

This can sometimes cause lower back pain, but not always.

Why does this happen?

This is a developmental occurrence and not usually caused by trauma or a single incident.

Repetitive backwards movements or stretching the spine, in sports such as gymnastics and football can cause it to be painful.

What does this mean for me?

Most people with a pars defect or spondylolisthesis can continue with normal activities, but just restrict the amount of extension activities you do.

When you see the consultant in clinic, they will look on the X-ray or scan to see how stable the defect is. If the pars defect or spondylolisthesis is stable then you can continue with normal activities and you will be monitored. This is usually every 6 months or once a year.

You may also be referred to physiotherapy if you are having some pain.

Will this cause me any problems in the future?

There is a good chance that a pars defect could heal itself, given time.

It is important to remain active in your chosen sport and manage your symptoms with core and pelvic stability exercises. Your physiotherapist can guide you through a programme.

Sometimes, an operation may be needed to help stabilise the 2 vertebrae in the spine. This operation may be needed if the spondylolisthesis continues, or the pain cannot be managed with physiotherapy.

What can I do to help myself?

Things that you can do to help yourself include:
  • Keep active and try to not be scared of damaging your back
  • Follow precautionary advice (from your physiotherapist) if you do a sport with involves excessive extension
  • If you have a flare-up of pain, use pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, and rest from the activities that are aggravating your back until the pain settles

Contact us

Candice Sutcliffe – Spinal Extended Scope Practitioner
Telephone: 0114 271 7227

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: PT37

Resource Type: Article

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