Planar bone scintigraphy (PBS) and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) were compared in 19 adults with radiographic evidence of spondylolysis and/or spondylolisthesis. SPECT was more sensitive than PBS when used to identify symptomatic patients and sites of "painful" defects in the pars interarticularis. In addition, SPECT allowed more accurate localization than PBS. In 6 patients, spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis was unrelated to low back pain, and SPECT images of the posterior neural arch were normal. The authors conclude that when spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis is the cause of low back pain, pars defects are frequently heralded by increased scintigraphic activity which is best detected and localized by SPECT.