Background: Repetitive lumbar hyperextension and rotation during athletic activity affect the structural integrity of the lumbar spine. While many sports have been associated with an increased risk of developing a pars defect, few previous studies have systematically investigated spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis in professional baseball players. Purpose: To characterize the epidemiology and treatment of symptomatic lumbar spondylolysis and isthmic spondylolisthesis in American professional baseball players. We also sought to report the return-to-play (RTP) and performance-based outcomes associated with the diagnosis of a pars defect in this elite athlete population. Study Design: Descriptive epidemiology study. Methods: A retrospective cohort study was conducted among all Major and Minor League Baseball (MLB and MiLB, respectively) players who had low back pain and underwent lumbar spine imaging between 2011 and 2016. Players with radiological evidence of a pars defect (with or without listhesis) were included. Analyses were conducted to assess the association between player-specific characteristics and RTP time. Baseball performance metrics were also compared before and after the injury episode to determine whether there was an association between the diagnosis of a pars defect and diminished player performance. Results: During the study period of 6 MLB seasons, 272 professional baseball players had low back pain and underwent lumbar spine imaging. Overall, 75 of these athletes (27.6%) received a diagnosis of pars defect. All affected athletes except one (98.7%) successfully returned to professional baseball, with a median RTP time of 51 days. Players with spondylolisthesis returned to play faster than those with spondylolysis, MLB athletes returned faster than MiLB athletes, and position players returned faster than pitchers. Athletes with a diagnosed pars defect did not show a significant decline in performance after returning to competition after their injury episode. Conclusion: Lumbar pars defects were a common cause of low back pain in American professional baseball players. The vast majority of affected athletes were able to return to competition without demonstrating a significant decline in baseball performance.
- pars defect
- pars fracture
- pars injury
- performance-based outcomes
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
- Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation