Retrospective single center.

Our purpose was to quantify the time to diagnosis of spondylolysis/spondylolisthesis in symptomatic patients after first seeking medical care.

Several studies have found a high prevalence of pars defects in adolescent athletes with back pain, up to 47%. A review by the Scoliosis Research Society Evidence-Based Medicine Committee reports that both nonsurgical and surgical treatment of symptomatic spondylolysis effectively relieves pain and allows most patients to return to activities. Nonoperative treatment outcomes improve with early diagnosis.

A retrospective chart review was conducted of patients presenting at our institution between 2005 and 2015 with symptomatic spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis with radiographic confirmation. Medical records were reviewed for demographics, date of symptom onset, date of initial presentation to a health care provider, type of provider, and date of diagnosis.

Forty-six patients met the inclusion criteria. Average patient age was 14 years (range: 6-19 years). Forty-one percent (19/46) of patients had spondylolysis, and 59% (27/46) of patients had spondylolisthesis. Of those with spondylolisthesis, 20 had grade I, 4 had grade II, 2 had grade III, and 1 had grade IV slips. The average time between onset of symptoms and initial presentation was 24 weeks (orthopedic: 21 weeks, nonorthopedic: 29 weeks, unknown: 18 weeks; p = .26). The average delay between initial presentation to a health care provider and diagnosis was 15 weeks. Time from initial presentation to diagnosis was 1 week for orthopedic surgeons, 25 weeks for nonorthopedic providers, and 10 weeks for unknown providers; this difference was significant (p = .02).

Diagnosis of spondylolysis/spondylolisthesis was significantly longer after seeing a nonorthopedic versus an orthopedic provider. Education of primary care providers on this topic is warranted. Children suffering from back pain from spondylolysis/spondylolisthesis may benefit from early referral to an orthopedic surgeon.

Level II.