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Has your teenage son begun to complain about a ‘sore’ lower back?  A pain that gradually worsens, eventually resulting in even the most enjoyable exercise becoming unbearable?  Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in early adolescence and may be a warning sign that your son is suffering PARS syndrome and could benefit from a visit to a sports doctor.  But, what is PARS syndrome?

PARS syndrome can be referred to by many names including, PARS defect, spondylolysis or simply, back stress fractures.  It most commonly occurs at the L5 vertebra and is defined as an ‘overuse or fatigue stress fracture involving the pars interarticularis of the posterior vertebral arch’ (Fig 1).

A common presentation is in adolescent athletes involved in sports that require repetitive lumbar loading in extension and rotation including Australian Rules Football, Soccer, Cricket, Tennis and Rowing.  This specific injury is more commonly found in those athletes with a high training volume. Additional risk factors include large increases in acute training exposure when compared with previous training history. An example of this is athletes who transition from water-based sports in summer, i.e., swimming and water polo, to ground-based running sports and are under prepared for the associated training load.

As this is most often a repeated mechanical stress injury, strengthening of the supporting skeletal muscle via a supervised, age-appropriate strength and conditioning program is likely an excellent step in reducing the risk of occurrence. The St Peter’s College Athletic Department follow a structured curriculum aimed at learning athletic movements and reducing injury risk before advancing to strengthening exercises used to enhance athletic performance (Figure 2).

If you have more questions on this injury and, please contact the SPSC Athletic Development team.

Ben Haines – PhD
Sports Coach – Strength and Conditioning