Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are often diagnosed in children presenting with low back pain. Spondylolysis refers to a defect of the vertebral pars interarticularis. Spondylolisthesis is the forward translation of one vertebral segment over the one beneath it. Isthmic spondylolysis, isthmic spondylolisthesis, and stress reactions involving the pars interarticularis are the most common forms seen in children. Typical presentation is characterized by a history of activity-related low back pain and the presence of painful spinal mobility and hamstring tightness without radiculopathy. Plain radiography, computed tomography, and single-photon emission computed tomography are useful for establishing the diagnosis. Symptomatic stress reactions of the pars interarticularis or adjacent vertebral structures are best treated with immobilization of the spine and activity restriction. Spondylolysis often responds to brief periods of activity restriction, immobilization, and physiotherapy. Low-grade spondylolisthesis (< or =50% translation) is treated similarly. The less common dysplastic spondylolisthesis with intact posterior elements requires greater caution. Symptomatic high-grade spondylolisthesis (>50% translation) responds much less reliably to nonsurgical treatment. The growing child may need to be followed clinically and radiographically through skeletal maturity. When pain persists despite nonsurgical interventions, when progressive vertebral displacement increases, or in the presence of progressive neurologic deficits, surgical intervention is appropriate.

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