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Timing of Physical Therapy Referral in Adolescent Athletes With Acute Spondylolysis: A Retrospective Chart Review

Selhorst, Mitchell DPT*; Fischer, Anastasia MD; Graft, Kristine DPT*; Ravindran, Reno MD; Peters, Eric PTA; Rodenberg, Richard MD; Welder, Eric; MacDonald, James MD, MPH

Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine: May 2017 - Volume 27 - Issue 3 - p 296–301
doi: 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000334
Original Research

Objectives: The purposes of this study were (1) to determine whether the duration of rest before referral to physical therapy (PT) affects the time to make a full return to activity for patients with an acute spondylolysis, (2) to assess the safety of an early referral to PT in patients with an acute spondylolysis.

Study Design: Retrospective chart review.

Setting: Hospital-based sports medicine clinic.

Patients: The medical charts of 196 adolescent athletes (mean age = 14.3 ± 1.8 years) with an acute spondylolytic injury met the inclusion criteria and were reviewed.

Independent Variable: Patients were subgrouped based on physician referral to PT.

Patterns: An aggressive referral group (<10 weeks) and a conservative referral group (>10 weeks).

Main Outcome Measures: Duration of rest before clearance to a full return to activity and the frequency of adverse reactions during the course of treatment. Safety was assessed by calculating the risk of experiencing an adverse reaction in each group.

Results: Median days to a full return to activity for aggressive referral group (115.5 days, interquartile range 98-150 days) and conservative referral group (140.0 days, interquartile range 114.5-168 days) were significantly different (P = 0.002). Eleven patients had adverse reactions during the course of treatment. The risk of adverse reaction was not statistically significant between groups (P = 0.509).

Conclusions: Patients with acute spondylolysis in the aggressive referral group were able to make a full return activity almost 25 days sooner. No differences in the risk of adverse reactions were noted between aggressive and conservative referral groups.

*Department of Sports and Orthopedic Physical Therapy, Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio; and

Division of Sports Medicine, Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio.

Corresponding Author: Mitchell Selhorst, DPT, 6499 East Broad St. Suite 140, Columbus, OH 43213 (

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Received September 02, 2015

Accepted January 14, 2016

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