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What Are Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolysis (spon-dee-low-LYE-sis) is a long word that means spine defect.

Children with spondylolysis have a problem in the bones (vertebrae) of their lower back. Doctors think the problem may be due to tiny cracks in the bones (stress fractures). Often too much use causes these cracks to develop over time. Usually this problem is not present when the baby is born (congenital).

Spondylolysis may lead to spondylolisthesis (spon-dee-low-lis-THEE-sis). Spondylolisthesis means spine slippage.

In a normal backbone, the bones are stacked on top of each other with disks in between them that act as shock absorbers. When one of the bones slides forward off the disk and onto the bone underneath it, it is called spine slippage.

Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis in Children

These two conditions are the most common causes of ongoing (chronic) back pain in children. As many as 6% of children may have spondylolysis by the time they are 6 years old.

Children who take part in sports that require them to arch their backs a lot get stress fractures in the backbone more often than other children. Gymnasts, down linemen in football, volleyball players and swimmers who do the butterfly stroke are the most likely to have this problem.

Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis at Seattle Children’s

Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are two of the conditions treated by the experts in our Spine Program.

The way we diagnose and treat your child sets Seattle Children’s apart:

  • We take care to find out what is causing your child’s pain.
  • We believe that surgery is not necessary for most back problems in children.

To find the best treatment for your child, we work closely with our other specialty departments, including Rheumatology, Adolescent Medicine, Pain Medicine and Neurosurgery.

If your child needs surgery, our doctors have a national reputation for excellence in all types of spine surgery.

Who Treats This at Seattle Children's?

Should your child see a doctor?

Find out by selecting your child’s symptom or health condition in the list below:

Summer 2014: Good Growing Newsletter

In This Issue

  • Understanding the Power and Influence of Role Models
  • Legal Marijuana Means Greater Poisoning Risks for Children
  • Why Choose Pediatric Emergency Care?

Download Summer 2014 (PDF)