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Health Information For Parents
Spondylolisthesis (spon-duh-low-lis-THEE-sis) happens when the front part of a vertebra (bone in the spine) slides away from the back part. In kids and teens, it’s often a complication of spondylolysis, and is a common cause of lower back pain in these age groups.
Spondylolisthesis usually is mild and heals with rest and other “conservative” (or nonsurgical) treatments. However, sometimes it can be severe and need surgery to fix the problem.
The spine (or backbone) has 33 bones called vertebrae (VER-tuh-bray). Nine vertebrae are fused together to form the tailbone, and the other 24 are in the back. The lumbar vertebrae are in the lower back and closest to the tailbone. This is where spondylolisthesis usually happens.
Sometimes the front and back parts of one of the vertebra aren’t connected. This happens because of a fracture (break) in the part of the vertebra called the pars (or pars interarticularis). Each vertebra has two pars, one on the left side and one on the right. If both pars are fractured, the front part of the vertebra can slide away from the back part.
Most of the time, the front slides away only a little bit. But if it slides away a lot, it can cause the spinal cord and nerve roots to become pinched.
Some kids are born with a spondylolisthesis and some cases probably are genetic (passed down by parents to their children). Spondylolisthesis can get worse while kids are growing and even into adulthood.
Many people with spondylolisthesis don’t realize that they have it. Their backs might feel just fine despite a vertebra being out of place.
When there are symptoms, they often include:
If the vertebra slips far enough to press on the spinal cord or smaller nerves, it can cause increased pain and, in more serious cases, nerve damage. Signs of this include:
Young people are more at risk for spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis because their bones are still growing, especially during a growth spurt.
Kids and teens who play sports and do activities that can strain the lower back or that involve a lot of lower-back stretching — like football, weightlifting, gymnastics, volleyball, ballet, golf, and wrestling — are especially likely to have these problems.
Besides doing a physical exam, health care providers will order X-rays of the lower back to look for spondylolisthesis. X-rays can show if a vertebra has slipped out of place.
Sometimes, other imaging tests are done — such as a CT (computed tomography) scan or a lumbar MRI scan — to get a better look at the back and to see if the slipped vertebra is affecting the nerves.
Most people with spondylolisthesis get better by resting and doing exercises designed to stretch and strengthen the back. Only in rare cases is surgery needed to fix the condition.
As with spondylolysis, health care professionals probably will recommend:
Conservative treatments usually are enough to fix the pain from spondylolisthesis.
For more severe cases, a surgical procedure might be needed. In surgery:
If mild spondylolisthesis doesn’t heal properly, kids can have chronic back pain and a loss of flexibility.
Spondylolisthesis is hard to prevent because it can happen all at once or over time. A child or teen who has spondylolysis can help prevent it progressing to spondylolisthesis by taking the time to rest and heal as the health care provider directs.
Young athletes can help lower their risk of these and other back problems by:
The sports and activities that can cause spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis often are very competitive and attract motivated, driven kids and teens. So it’s important to keep your child’s temperament in mind when dealing with these problems and their recovery.
Besides their own wishes to return to what they love, kids and teens also might be under pressure to get back into the game from coaches, teammates — and even parents. But a safe return to play is very important. Kids should get the OK from their health care provider before they return to physically demanding activities and sports.
After recovery, kids and teens need to keep up with the proper techniques and sports safety measures they learned. They should maintain their core strength and flexibility, and take breaks between sports seasons, games, and competitions.
Also, be sure that your kids know to immediately stop doing any activity that causes back pain. They should see their health care provider and not return to play until the pain goes away.
Spondylolysis is a very common cause of lower back pain in kids, teens, and young adults. It usually heals quickly with rest and other nonsurgical treatments.
Participation in sports can teach kids sportsmanship and discipline. But sports also carry the potential for injury. Here’s how to protect your kids.
Scoliosis makes a personâs spine curve from side to side. Large curves can cause health problems like pain or breathing trouble. Health care providers treat scoliosis with back braces or surgery when needed.
A spinal fusion is a surgical procedure that’s done to stabilize or straighten the bones in the back. It can help kids and teens with scoliosis.
A lumbar spine MRI is a painless test that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed pictures of the bones, disks, and other structures in the lower back.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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