Spondylolysis in Children | Treatments

At Boston Children's Hospital, we understand that healing from spondylolysis can be a difficult experience for both adolescents and their families.  All the members of our Orthopedic Center are here to help. Our clinicians have a tremendous amount of experience treating overuse injuries and remain sensitive to the emotions of children, adolescents and young adults.

How is spondylolysis treated?

The primary method of treating spondylolysis is taking time off from sports and activities. This gives the stress fracture time to heal.

During the healing period, your child's doctor may also recommend:

  • physical therapy: this type of therapy focuses on stretching hamstrings, strengthening the core muscles and increasing mobility. 
  • bracing: a child who has a lot of pain when leaning backwards may need to wear a back brace for about 3 months.  The brace works by holding the spine in a straighter position, preventing it from bending back.

Your child's doctor may also give you more information about bone stimulator treatment if he believes it to be a viable treatment option.

Will my child need surgery?

It is unlikely that a child with spondylolysis will need surgery.

  • Surgery is usually only necessary for children who have: spondylolisthesis, a condition in which two or more vertebrae slip out of their proper position and slide past each other
  • pain that persists after other non-surgical methods are used

How long does it take to recover?

The healing period for spondylolysis is important because it gives the injured area time to rest and recover. Your child should heal from an overuse injury in a period of weeks or months, depending on the severity of the injury.

Clinicians in the Orthopedic Center here at Children's typically recommend that an adolescent with spondylolysis spend at least 3 months wearing a back brace and doing physical therapy.  Approximately 3 to 4 months of rest is often needed before the child can return to sports.

Coping and support

Even though you and your child understand the importance of resting his overuse injury, you may both experience his healing period as a difficult time. Fortunately, there are many resources for information and support available to you here at Boston Children's:

  • In the Division of Sports Medicine at Children's, counseling is available to help injured athletes deal with the psychological stresses of a sports-related injury. Call 617-355-3501 to request an appointment.
  • With Children's goal of dramatically reducing overuse injuries in youth sports, members of the team in our Orthopedic Center often travel to local and regional schools, youth groups and sports clubs to teach leg strengthening and other techniques. 
  • We also conduct frequent safe training programs and clinics for coaches. Call 617-355-3501 for details.
  • Overtraining in Youth Sports is a fact sheet created by Lyle Micheli, MD, and the faculty of the Division of Sports Medicine that provides information about how overuse injuries occur and how they can be prevented.