Children's Hospital Colorado


What is spondylolysis?

Spondylolysis is a condition that occurs when a child sustains a stress fracture to one of the vertebrae of the spine. It usually occurs at the fourth or fifth lumbar vertebrae in the low back.

Who gets spondylolysis?

Spondylolysis can be caused by both hereditary factors and activity. A child who is born with thin vertebral bones may be at higher risk for developing spondylolysis. In addition, a child who is active in sports such as diving, gymnastics, football and any sport that puts stress on the low back due to hyperextension may develop spondylolysis over time. 

The importance of early treatment and diagnosis

If spondylolysis is not treated or diagnosed early, it may develop into a condition known as spondylolisthesis.

What are symptoms of spondylolysis?

Many kids with spondylolysis have no obvious symptoms. If symptoms are present, they usually include leg and/or back pain that is worsened by physical activity. Pain usually spreads across the lower back and may feel like a muscle strain.

Spondylolysis is most common in adolescents and is quite rare beyond this age group.

How is spondylolysis diagnosed?

If your child is referred to a doctor at the Spine Program for this condition or low back pain, an x-ray of the low back can confirm the diagnosis. If your child has spondylolysis, the x-ray will show the stress fracture through the vertebrae where it occurs.

How is spondylolysis treated?

Treatment for spondylolysis at our Spine Program is almost always conservative in nature. Your child will be limited from activities, such as sports, that cause the pain. Also, anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy are usually recommended by our spine experts.

Who choose the Spine Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado?

The Spine Program at Children’s Colorado evaluates and treats infants, children, adolescents and young adults with all types of spinal diseases, deformities and injuries, ranging from spondylolysis to complex neuromuscular disease and trauma. Our spine team is among the most knowledgeable pediatric spine care teams in the country, with the goal to always provide the safest and most effective treatments.

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