Reports of spondylolysis in vertebrae other than those of the lower lumbar spine are rare. We report 32 patients with upper lumbar spondylolysis who have been studied clinically, radiologically and scintigraphically. Twenty patients had bilateral lesions, and seven of those with unilateral lesions had structural changes or anomalies in the opposite posterior arch. Positive scans were found to be associated with a short clinical history, and indicated stress-related lesions. Our findings suggest that mechanical factors may play a role in the aetiology of spondylolysis in the upper lumbar spine similar to that which they play in the lower lumbar spine, and that local structural anomalies may contribute to abnormal loading of these vertebrae.