There are many injuries that can cause back pain. When it occurs in children or adolescents, however, one of the most common culprits is spondylolysis, or a stress fracture on the bones of the lower back. In fact, the condition is most commonly diagnosed in adolescents aged 15 and 16, and the risk of spondylolysis increases during the growth spurts that occur during puberty.

The tiny cracks in the bone that form in this stress fracture can cause the bones of the spine to slip. In severe cases, these bones can put pressure on nerves and may require surgery to correct.

To some people with spondylolysis, the condition feels like a strained muscle in the lower back. You may also feel as though your hamstring muscles are tight or that you’re having back spasms.

Athletes most at risk of this injury include those in sports that put repeated pressure on the bones of the lower back and may stretch it too far, such as gymnastics, football and weight lifting. The condition may result from weakness in parts of the spine, and although some experts suspect this weakness is due to genetics, the cause is not definitively known.

Your doctor may diagnose you with spondylolysis after taking an X-ray. Or if the fracture is minor and therefore harder to see, using other imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, which uses a magnetic field to create an image of the soft tissues of your body.

The first step to treat spondylolysis is taking a break from athletic activities; anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen can also help your back heal. In about three-fourths of cases, these measures are enough to treat spondylolysis. If these measures don’t halt the pain, however, your doctor may recommend physical therapy or, in severe cases, surgery to correct any slippage that has occurred due to damaged backbone.