Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are two common causes of lower back pain in both children and adolescents. Those who participate in sports that cause repetitive stress on the back are at the highest risk of developing these two conditions. High-risk sports include gymnastics, skiing, and weight-lifting. Although their names are similar, spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are two separate conditions. Spondylolysis is a crack or stress fracture of the vertebrae, while spondylolisthesis is the slipping of a weakened vertebra out of alignment. Untreated spondylolysis can progress to spondylolisthesis, leaving a patient with painful and uncomfortable symptoms. Learn more about these conditions and how they are treated by our orthopaedic spine specialists at OrthoGeorgia below.
What are the Symptoms of Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis?
Spondylolysis is an extremely common cause of low back pain in young athletes. The severity of the pain will depend on the severity of the fracture, but pain generally increases with physical activity. In many cases, there may be no symptoms at all. Pain associated with spondylolysis tends to have the following characteristics:
Feels similar to a muscle strain
Radiates to the buttocks and backs of the thighs
Improves with rest
Spondylolisthesis involves the above symptoms, plus additional signs that indicate the worsening of the condition. Pain caused by spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis may start out mild and gradually progress until it occurs even when the child is at rest. Additional symptoms of spondylolisthesis can include:
Muscle spasms in the hamstrings
Numbness or tingling in the legs and feet
Diagnosing Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis at OrthoGeorgia
Diagnosis of spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis will start with a conversation about your child’s medical history, general health, and symptoms. Your orthopaedic specialist will likely ask your child about the sport they play and what makes their symptoms better or worse. A physical examination of the back will allow the physician to check for tenderness, limited range of motion, muscle spasms, and muscle weakness. Posture and gait can also be examined to reach a diagnosis. Imaging tests can provide insights related to both of these conditions as well. X-rays can be used to visualize stress fractures, along with forward slippage of the vertebrae. If needed, a CT scan can also be used to provide a clearer picture of the damage to the spine and help your child’s doctor plan out their treatment. In some cases, an MRI may be used to look for early degeneration of the intervertebral discs and to see if a slipped vertebra is pressing on the spinal nerve roots.
Treatment for Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis in Central GA
Non-Surgical Treatment for Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis
The ultimate goals of treatment for spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are to reduce pain and allow the fracture to heal properly. From there, the child will be able to return to sports and other daily activities safely. Many cases of spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis will improve with non-surgical treatment methods, including taking a break from sports and wearing a back brace for a period of time. This will limit the movement of the spine and allow the stress fracture to heal. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be used to manage pain. Physical therapy is also a non-surgical treatment option in many cases of spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis.
Physical Therapy for Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis in Central GA
Physical therapy for spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis is focused on improving flexibility, stretching the tight hamstring muscles, and strengthening the muscles in the back and abdomen. A proper physical therapy plan will help a young athlete increase their mobility and learn how to avoid future back injuries. OrthoGeorgia is proud to offer our patients convenient access to comprehensive physical therapy care at our orthopaedic clinics in Macon, Warner Robins, and Kathleen. Our licensed physical therapists and physical therapy assistants are trained in a number of specialized treatments and utilize state-of-the-art equipment to help our patients achieve their goals.
Will I Need Surgery for Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis?
Surgery is normally only recommended for patients with severe spondylolisthesis. Indications for surgery include severe or high-grade slippage of the vertebrae, slippage that is progressively worsening, and back pain that does not improve with non-surgical treatment. The most common surgical procedure utilized for spondylolisthesis is spinal fusion, which involves fusing together the affected vertebrae so that they heal into a single, solid bone. This eliminates motion and reduces pain in the spine. If your child’s physician at OrthoGeorgia recommends surgery, they will ensure that all of your questions are answered and that both you and your child feel confident and comfortable with their treatment plan.
Other Spine and Back Conditions We Treat at OrthoGeorgia
At OrthoGeorgia, we are proud to help patients and athletes of all ages get back to living their most comfortable and active lives via a wide range of orthopaedic treatment methods. Whether you are facing a sudden spine injury or a chronic neck condition, the members of our team are here to provide you with an accurate diagnosis and help you find relief. We encourage anyone suffering from orthopaedic pain to contact the OrthoGeorgia location nearest you today. Spine and neck conditions and injuries we treat in Central GA include: