Children and adolescents are experiencing back pain. Why it happens, and how parents can help prevent it is the objective. When thinking of back pain the image is typically a man or woman, hunched over grabbing their backs and wincing in pain. However, back pain in children and adolescents is not that uncommon.
According to a 2020 study published in Spine, around thirty-four percent of children report having back pain, with almost nine percent experiencing severe back pain. By the time they are fifteen, 20 to 70% of children will have experienced back pain at some point. Developing chronic back pain increases with age and is more common in girls.
The study found those that sought out early treatment, physical therapy, and chiropractic being the most prescribed lessened the need for more invasive treatments, like spinal injections, and surgery. Back pain can have a major impact on an adult’s life, and more so on a child. Prevention and treatment are important to help restore overall health and wellness.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms can vary, the most common:
- Pain increases with movement, like bending or twisting
- Increased pain after sitting or standing for an extended period
- Sore and tender muscles around the spine
- Tight muscles
- Muscle spasms
Most back pain in children is mild. However, there are times when the child will require medical attention. A child should see a doctor if back pain persists for more than two or three days, if there is a fever, or if there is any numbness or weakness in the arms and legs.
Like adults, muscle sprains and strains are the most common cause of back pain. Strains are more common in the low back than around the neck or middle back and usually occur from overuse injuries, poor posture, poor body mechanics, and falls. Other common causes include:
- Weak core
- Muscle weakness and stiffness
- A sedentary lifestyle, not enough activity
- Sitting and slouching in front of the computer for too long
- Carrying an overloaded backpack
Recreational and sports activities with injuries sustained are the most common causes of developing back pain. However, back pain can be brought on by underlying health and spine-related conditions. About a third of adolescents with low back pain could have a spinal condition. The most common conditions include:
This is an abnormal curvature of the spine. This is usually not a painful condition. Some curvatures can be severe enough to cause pain and require medical care. Scoliosis can include the middle, low spine, or the entire spine. It is most common in adolescents 11-17 years of age. Symptoms include:
- Tilted shoulders
- Uneven hip bones
- One side of the ribs projects out more than the other
This is a growth disorder of the vertebrae. It happens when the front of the spine does not grow as fast as the back of the spine. This can produce a humpback curvature. The spine bends forward but the child cannot stand up straight. Usually, it happens during accelerated growth periods.
The vertebrae can break in children and kids that do repetitive exercises involving bending and twisting. Sports like gymnastics and football create a heightened risk for spondylolysis. It usually affects the low back and presents with non-stop low back pain. The most common treatment is rest. Other causes include:
- Spinal cord tumors
- Sickle cell anemia
Tumors and infections are highly uncommon in children. They often present with pain and fever. If the nerves are pinched numbness, tingling, and weakness in the extremities can develop.
Back pain in children is usually a short experience and can be treated with ice, rest, and over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen for children and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. A playing/exercise program can significantly help reduce child back pain.
However, there could be a need to modify the activity, so as to not worsen the injury or create new injury/s. The activities could be made to be lighter or a brace could be utilized. A specialist like a chiropractor/physical therapist can provide treatment, along with exercises, stretches, and lifestyle changes that will help reduce the pain. Complementary therapies like massage and acupuncture can enhance the child’s healing/recovery time and knock out the pain quickly.
Proper posture can and will prevent back pain. Children’s and adolescents’ musculoskeletal structures continue to develop at this stage. Therefore, sitting, standing, and lifting properly is paramount to preventing back pain. Along with this is avoiding activities that place repeated strain on the spine. An example is an overexertion while playing sports. Tips for keeping kids back-pain free:
- Avoid activities that generate repeated strain on the same muscles
- Stretching breaks need to be incorporated when sitting for a long time
- Limit sedentary activities
- Teach proper posture
- No slouching
- As much as possible make the home a stress-free environment
- Maintain a healthy weight and diet with balanced meals and snacks
- Help promote overall mental and physical health
Children and kids that are stressed out or depressed have a greater risk of developing back pain. Encourage the kids to stay active, get proper sleep, stretch out, and eat foods that are healthy for the spine. If back pain is presenting, a customized treatment plan along with lifestyle changes will get the child back to their favorite activities.
Chiropractic Care for Lower Back Injury
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