Bone, Joint and Muscle Conditions

Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis may not cause any obvious symptoms for some children. In others, spondylolysis can cause pain that spreads across the lower back. Pain may be worse when children arch their backs.

If the slipping is severe for children with spondylolisthesis, it can stretch the nerves in the lower part of the back. This can lead to:

  • Pain that goes down one or both legs
  • A numb feeling in one or both feet
  • Weakness in your child's legs
  • Trouble controlling bladder or bowel movements

Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis Diagnosis

Slip displacement. Courtesy of 'Fundamentals of Pediatric Orthopedics,' © 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

Slip displacement

Doctors look first for signs of cracks in the bones of your child's back. These cracks are called stress fractures. We look for stress fractures first because spine slippage, though rare in children, usually happens to those who have the fractures first.

The doctor will ask your child if the pain is worse when they arch their back. This is a common sign of stress fractures. Most often, these fractures are in the lower part of the backbone.

Next, we most likely will take X-rays of your child's backbone. This helps doctors make sure your child has a stress fracture. If we cannot see the crack clearly on the X-ray, we may ask to do a bone scan.

If we find a crack in the bone, we will probably take a three-dimensional X-ray called a CT (computed tomography) scan. This will give us an even better look at the fracture and help you and your child's doctor decide on treatment.