Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis

Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare is a national leader in pediatric orthopedics. We offer comprehensive services for conditions—such as spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis— and their related complications. Our experts in orthopedics collaborate with other Gillette specialists to provide exceptional care for every patient. We also evaluate and treat patients whose needs continue into adulthood. Our goal is to provide a family-centered environment that helps our patients achieve their highest possible levels of health, independence and happiness.

Why Choose Gillette?

  • Gillette is a national leader in pediatric orthopedics.
  • We offer an interdisciplinary team of experts who understand how spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis affect health, self-esteem and quality of life.
  • We offer the expertise of one of the nation’s largest groups of fellowship-trained pediatric orthopedic surgeons.
  • Our experts collaborate to provide comprehensive treatment plans.


Spondylolysis (spon-dee-low-lye-sis) is a stress fracture that occurs in one of the vertebrae that make up the spinal column. It often causes back pain in children and teens.  In most cases, spondylolysis affects the lowest vertebra of the lower back.

Another condition, called spondylolisthesis (spon-dee-low-lis-thee-sis), occurs when the stress fracture weakens the bone so much that the vertebra shifts out of place.

Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis Symptoms

In most cases, patients who have spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis have no pain. Some patients experience back pain and typically describe it as dull, aching discomfort in the low back that worsens after participating in sports or other physical activities that put stress on the lower back. In severe cases, athletes who have spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis might withdraw from physical activities because of significant pain.

Additional symptoms of the conditions might include:

  • Stiffness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Sciatica (pain radiating down one or both legs)
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Weakness
  • Changes in posture or gait

Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis Causes, Incidence and Risk Factors

The exact cause of spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis is unknown. Several risk factors, however, might increase the likelihood of developing the condition.

Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are more likely to occur in:

  • People who have a history of the condition in their family
  • People who have certain birth defects or injuries
  • Teens
  • Athletes who participate in sports that require frequent extension of the spine or stress on the lower back, such as football, gymnastics, dancing, diving, lacrosse, track and field, and weightlifting

Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis Tests

At Gillette, our specialists typically diagnose spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis after reviewing the patient’s medical history and test results and performing a physical examination.

Tests used to diagnose spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis might include:

  • X-ray: Spine X-rays taken at a slanted angle and from the side help determine if any vertebrae are out of place. It is difficult, however, to diagnose spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis using X-rays only.
  • MRI: MRIs provide more detailed images of the vertebrae, including signs of a stress fracture—such as swelling and edema (swelling caused by excess fluid)
  • CT scan: If needed, a CT scan provides a more detailed view of the vertebrae’s bony structure

Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis Treatments

We recommend nonsurgical treatments first. The goals of nonsurgical treatments are to relieve pain and encourage the vertebrae to heal with the best possible spine alignment.

Nonsurgical treatments include:

Rest or Activity Restrictions

We often recommend that patients temporarily stop the activity that is causing pain until the pain goes away.

Physical Therapy

To prevent further injury or recurrence of pain, we might recommend physical therapy to stretch and strengthen muscles and to increase flexibility in the abdomen and back.

Back Brace

Back braces might relieve pressure from the lower back, relieve pain and promote the best posture during healing.

Anti-inflammatory Medication

Medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, might help relieve pain.

Steroid Injections

Steroids injections into the spine might reduce pain.


Our specialists work closely with patients and their families to discuss which treatment plan might be best for them. In very rare cases where spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis don’t respond to nonsurgical treatments or when vertebrae press on nerves, we might recommend surgery—such as limited spinal fusion.

Our Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis Services

Gillette offers comprehensive services for patients who have spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis, taking an interdisciplinary approach to care. Our experts work closely with patients and their families to develop custom treatment plans that meet their needs.

Specialties and services most often involved in the care and treatment of spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis include:

For more information about Gillette’s specialties and services, search Conditions and Care.

Why Gillette?

Because all children deserve a lifetime of amazing health care.

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