back pain in children and adolescents

Back pain in children

We help patients with back pain in our physiotherapy clinic in Chandler’s Ford, Eastleigh. Visit our home page to find our more about us.


Back pain in children – what you will learn


I hope this blog post will be of some help to parents and other caregivers who may be concerned about back pain in their children and seek further advice/reassurance. This is a topic that is not discussed often in media, and I felt a need to explore it further. I have been inspired to write about it by an interview with Prof. Wally Krengel, orthopaedic surgeon.

From the article you will learn about the most common causes of back pain in children, what to do to help your little ones, and what symptoms should prompt you to seek further, medical advice. Lastly, you will also learn about rare causes of back pain in children and adolescents. I am going to omit trauma and accident-related back pain in children where it is obvious what caused the problem. In those cases, back pain usually gets better with time. Conservative approach plus anti-inflammatory medications (ibuprofen, naproxen) very often are sufficient in tackling the pain in this circumstance.


Back pain in children – should you worry?


Back pain in children and adolescents is not rare. It is more common that we would like to think. Many people think that if children have back pain, it must be a really serious problem (i.e. a type of blood cancer – leukaemia) but the truth is different. Most young back pain sufferers get better with time and their problem is not likely to be sinister. However, if you notice that your child, apart from back pain, has developed one of the following symptoms, it is best to call a doctor.


Constant back pain not going away with the change of position

  • Night pain
  • Low grade fevers
  • Weight loss
  • Back pain that lasts for more that 5-7 days
  • Unexplained Tiredness and Malaise
  • Not engaging in play



Back pain in active children


Back pain is common in active children.  If your child plays football, basketball, or is doing gymnastics and develops back pain, the chance is they have sustained a stress fracture (spondylolysis). These fractures commonly occur near spinal joints, and it is really important for a child to stop training for 2-3 month allowing the bone tissue to heal up properly. Otherwise, the risk is that with continuous engagement in sport your child may develop a condition called spondylolisthesis – a slippage of one vertebra on another. This may lead to more pain with more serious health consequences. Sometimes, an operation is required to correct the spine. Therefore it is so important to stop training and rest; in most cases this is sufficient for the full recovery and your child should be able to get back to sport within months.


Back pain in children – how common is it?


Dr D.L. Skaggs decided to answer this question by conducting a research study ( it was in 2006, I think) in Los Angels. More than 1500 children took part and what the study revealed was that:


  • 37% of children suffered from back pain
  • 34% could not do all activities because of back pain
  • 14% had o take medication because of back pain


Back pain in children – other (rare) causes


There are of course other causes of back pain in children, but these are not so common. Remember, in 50% of cases we simply do not know what is causing back pain. Even with all the scans and other investigations we simply can’t find an anatomical reason behind the pain. Understandably, this may worry parents who send a child to see different specialists and undergo a series of diagnostic tests. A diagnostic work-up oftentimes reveals nothing and eventually the diagnosis is made of: functional back pain or non-specific back pain. Her eis the list of some other conditions that may cause back pain:

  • Scheuermann disease – excessive kyphosis (excessive curve), thoracic spine. In most cases it is self-limiting and does not affect children once they stop growing and their skeleton reaches maturity.
  • Herniated disc (slipped disc)- very rare; this condition mostly affects adults as with age intervertebral discs weaken and are prone to injuries.
  • Bertolotti Syndrom –  it is a malformation of the lumbar vertebra causing pain around the sacro-iliac joint, lumbar spine and along the iliac crest; Bertolotti was an Italian doctor who identified this problem in the beginning of XX century. Most children are asymptomatic with this condition, but some may suffer from back pain, especially later in life.
  • Pain may result from problems with the urinary tract, kidneys or constipation.

Very, very rarely there is more sinister cause of back pain such as cancer or infection

Back pain in children is not rare but seldom means a serious illness. Parents should observe the symptoms and seek medical attention if required.

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