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Protect the Back Early in Life to Avoid Injury

Northwestern Medicine expert warns against sport specificity at a young age to decrease risk of spinal injury

CHICAGO, Aug. 29, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --Young athletes today often participate in sports year round and with increasingly competitive club and school sports, it has become common to choose one sport to specialize at a young age. While this specialization may seem like a competitive edge, new Northwestern Medicine® research suggests that repetitive activity in just one sport, high impact or not, may not be a great idea for growing athletes.

A Northwestern Memorial Hospital spine surgeon, Wellington Hsu, MD, recently conducted a study which suggests that young athletes, during the stages of skeletal maturity, should avoid continuous repetitive activity associated with low impact rotational sports, such as baseball, tennis and golf, to decrease their risk of a spinal injury known as a pars fracture. The research was presented at the 2014 annual meeting of the Lumbar Spine Research Society.

VIDEO: Dr. Hsu discusses his research

The pars bone is part of a vertebra that joins the facets of the neighboring vertebra together.  This bone, which helps protect the spinal cord, is susceptible to injury during adolescent growth, which is a point of weakness in the spine. Adolescents who have not yet reached skeletal maturity have a higher rate of injury than adults.  

"Rotational sports that put repeated stress on the pars bone can result in a stress fracture in the spine, which is known as a pars fracture," said Hsu, who is the Clifford C. Raisbeck Distinguished Professor in the department of orthopaedic surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "This condition is found in 6 percent of the world's population, which equates to more than 430 million people worldwide with this injury."

A pars fracture, also known as spondylolysis, is usually isolated to one side of the lower back and symptoms arise during activities such as twisting, bending or stooping. This injury may not cause a high level of pain initially, but if left untreated can cause more severe back pain, including a pars fracture on the opposite side.

"If spondylolysis is caught early, it can often heal with just rest and immobilization and taking a break from the sport or activity which caused the injury," said Hsu. "When this injury is not caught early, it can lead to more serious conditions including a slip of a vertebra, narrowing of the spinal canal, or compression of nerve roots. These conditions may require physical therapy, cortisone injections, or in severe cases surgery to correct the injury. "

To protect young athletes' spines, Hsu recommends being active in a multitude of sports that include diverse muscle groups.

"Especially while a child's body is still growing, moderation of anything is a good idea to achieve physical fitness while being cautious," said Hsu. "By varying the sport adolescent athletes can develop different core and major muscles groups to stabilize their spines and reduce some of the repetitive stresses of certain rotational sports."

For more information on Northwestern Medicine spine surgery, visit the Center for Comprehensive Orthopaedic and Spine Care. To find a physician, call 312-926-0779.

About Northwestern Medicine®
Northwestern Medicine® is the collaboration between Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine around a strategic vision to transform the future of healthcare. It encompasses the research, teaching and patient care activities of the academic medical center. Sharing a commitment to superior quality, academic excellence and patient safety, the organizations within Northwestern Medicine comprise more than 9,000 clinical and administrative staff, 3,100 medical and science faculty and 700 students. The entities involved in Northwestern Medicine remain separate organizations. Northwestern Medicine is a trademark of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and is used by Northwestern University.

About Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Northwestern Memorial is one of the country's premier academic medical center hospitals and is the primary teaching hospital of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Along with its Prentice Women's Hospital and Stone Institute of Psychiatry, the hospital has 1,705 affiliated physicians and 6,769 employees. Northwestern Memorial is recognized for providing exemplary patient care and state-of-the art advancements in the areas of cardiovascular care; women's health; oncology; neurology and neurosurgery; solid organ and soft tissue transplants and orthopaedics.

Northwestern Memorial has nursing Magnet Status, the nation's highest recognition for patient care and nursing excellence. Northwestern Memorial ranks 10th in the nation in the U.S. News & World Report 2014-15 Honor Roll of America's Best Hospitals. The hospital is recognized in 14 of 16 clinical specialties rated by U.S. News and is No. 1 in Illinois and Chicago in U.S. News' 2014-15 state and metro rankings, respectively. For 14 years running, Northwestern Memorial has been rated among the "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers" guide by Working Mother magazine. The hospital is a recipient of the prestigious National Quality Health Care Award and has been chosen by Chicagoans as the Consumer Choice according to the National Research Corporation's annual survey for 15 consecutive years.

SOURCE Northwestern Medicine

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