A Vertebra That Has Moved Out of Place

Spondylolisthesis is when a vertebra (one of the 24 bones that make up the spinal column) moves out of place.

Many things can cause spondylolisthesis:

  • In children, the condition may be due to a birth defect or an injury. Young people who participate in sports that put stress on the lower back are especially at risk for spondylolisthesis.
  • Spondylolisthesis can also be caused by spinal fractures, tumors and bone diseases.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

For some children, spondylolisthesis has no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can range from mild to severe. Often, pain is felt in the lower back. This pain usually gets worse with activity and improves with rest.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the buttocks and back of the thighs
  • Tight hamstring muscles
  • Stiff back
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in one or both legs

To diagnose spondylolisthesis, a doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your child’s medical history and daily activities. An X-ray will also be ordered to view the spine and confirm the diagnosis.

For many, spondylolisthesis improves with rest and physical therapy. If your child’s case is severe or doesn’t get better with conservative treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Comprehensive, Collaborative Care

Our doctors provide focused care for spondylolisthesis. They collaborate to deliver comprehensive, specialty treatment through Penn State Health Spine Center – a part of Penn State Bone and Joint Institute. These doctors are leaders in neurosurgery, orthopaedics, pain management, radiology, physiatry, pediatric orthopedics and more. Their specialized training in the latest and most effective therapies and years of clinical experience translate to positive treatment outcomes.

Dedicated Back Pain Program

Developed by Penn State Health Spine Center, the Back Coach is a dedicated program designed to provide you with the information, resources and support you need to understand and manage your child’s back pain. Through this program, you can learn the causes of back and neck pain and the treatments available and send your questions to our spine care experts.

The Back Coach also includes an app for your mobile device that lets you track and manage your child’s pain so you can really understand what’s causing it and what works to alleviate it – a key part to treating back pain.

Designated as a Blue Distinction® Center

When spondylolisthesis requires surgery, our fellowship-trained neurosurgeons and orthopaedic spine surgeons provide the highest-level care. This is demonstrated by the Blue Distinction designation given to Penn State Health Spine Center by BlueCross BlueShield.

As a Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery, the center and its surgeons have been recognized for delivering expert spine surgery care. This respected designation is only given to health care facilities and providers that stand out for providing superior treatment.

Advancing Spine Care Through Research

Penn State Health includes the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the only academic medical center in central Pennsylvania. Hershey Medical Center is a national leader in research and on the leading edge of new treatment options, including clinical trials, in partnership with Penn State College of Medicine.

Support Groups

Support groups provide children and their families an opportunity to connect with others in similar situations. Learn more about the support groups offered at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.

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