Spondylolysis is common among the pediatric population, yet no formal systematic literature review regarding diagnostic imaging has been performed. The Scoliosis Research Society (SRS) requested an assessment of the current state of peer reviewed evidence regarding pediatric spondylolysis.

Literature was searched professionally and citations retrieved. Abstracts were reviewed and analyzed by the SRS Evidence-Based Medicine Committee. Level I studies were considered to provide Good Evidence for the clinical question. Level II or III studies were considered Fair Evidence. Level IV studies were considered Poor Evidence. From 947 abstracts, 383 full texts reviewed. Best available evidence for the questions of diagnostic methods was provided by 27 studies: no Level I sensitivity/specificity studies, five Level II and two Level III evidence, and 19 Level IV evidence.

Pain with hyperextension in athletes is the most widely reported finding in history and physical examination. Plain radiography is considered a first-line diagnostic test for suspected spondylolysis, but validation evidence is lacking. There is consistent Level II and III evidence that pars defects are detected by advanced imaging in 32% to 44% of adolescents with spondylolysis based on history and physical. Level III evidence that single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) is superior to planar bone scan and plain radiographs but limited by high rates of false-positive and false-negative results and by high radiation dose. Computed tomography (CT) is considered the gold standard and most accurate modality for detecting the bony defect and assessment of osseous healing but exposes the pediatric patient to ionizing radiation. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is reported to be as accurate as CT and useful in detecting early stress reactions of the pars without a fracture.

Plain radiographs are widely used as screening tools for pediatric spondylolysis. CT scan is considered the gold standard but exposes the patient to a significant amount of ionizing radiation. Evidence is fair and promising that MRI is comparable to CT.