What is spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis happens when a vertebra, a bone in the spine, slips forward over the bone below it. This can happen anywhere in the spine, but it is most common in the lower back. Spondylolisthesis can cause back pain, especially when standing, walking, or running. Children may also experience leg pains, numbness, or tingling. It is diagnosed with an x-ray or MRI.

How is spondylolisthesis treated?

Treatment options depend on the severity of the spondylolisthesis. Generally, for milder and acute cases, our care team may recommend rest, physical therapy, and activity modification such as taking a break from sports and other physical activities. If your child’s back still hurts despite rest, physical therapy, and activity modifications, surgery may be an option. Your child’s doctor will discuss the surgical treatment options with your family.

The most common surgery for spondylolisthesis is spinal fusion. In this procedure, rods and screws are placed into the vertebrae to stabilize the spine. The surgeon then places bone grafts, or small pieces of bone, along the spine to promote healing. The rods and screws hold the spine in the right place until the bone graft grows solid. This usually takes about a year. The goal is to reduce pain by restoring balance to the spine and decompressing nerves, if needed.

Most patients stay in the hospital for three to four days after this type of surgery. Your child’s care team will discuss how to gradually and safely get your child moving again after surgery, and physical therapy can help. Early on, patients have limitations on bending and lifting, and they can expect to spend three to six weeks out of school. Your care team will develop a plan to help your child get back to sports.