Testing & Diagnosis for Spondylolysis in Children

The first step in diagnosing spondylolysis is a physical exam. If a child shows symptoms, such as back pain that gets worse with extension, your child’s doctor will order x-rays to look for a fracture.

Since some stress fractures can’t be seen on x-rays, the following diagnostic tools may also be used:

Computerized tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan):

Often used for diagnosing spondylolysis, this imaging procedure uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays. It can be used to help decide if the fracture is old or new.

Bone scan:

This non-invasive imaging technique uses a special dye that circulates through the bloodstream to help clinicians visualize bone metabolism and cell activity. If the stress fracture is active, it will appear “hot” on bone scan suggesting that this is a new injury.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):

An imaging procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. An MRI can be used to diagnose spondylolysis, and may help in deciding if the injury is new or old.  MRI is particularly helpful in cases of spondylolisthesis.