Until recently, it was considered uncommon for a child or adolescent to complain of back pain.
It was usually associated with more serious conditions. However, today, back pain is becoming more common in younger children. Complaints of less serious back pain have been shown to increase as children get older. Even though the majority of children will not have a serious condition, we still need to be aware of the symptoms of these. Any of the following symptoms when associated with back pain should be reported to a physician:
• Fever or weight loss.
• Weakness, numbness, trouble walking or pain that radiates down one or both legs.
• Bowel or bladder dysfunction.
• Pain that interferes with sleep.
• Pain that is constant.
Once we have ruled out these more serious symptoms, we can address things that make children more likely to have back pain and how we can decrease these risks. Here are some leading causes:
• Injuries caused by sports from overuse of the back are the most common cause.
• Gender — back pain is more common in females.
• Age — children 12 and over experience significantly more back pain than younger children.
• Obesity and poor posture.
• Heavy schoolbags carried on one shoulder or in one hand.
• Incorrectly packed backpacks.
• Sedentary lifestyle — watching a lot of television or sitting in front of the computer.
• Extended wearing of flip-flops — children change their stride and curl their toes to hold the shoes. Also, there is no padding for shock absorption or arch support.
• Problems at school or peers — if this is suspected you should consider a school counselor or psychologist.
Here are some things you can do to help decrease the risk of injury for your children:
• Make sure the backpack is worn correctly over both shoulders and that the heavier items are packed close to the child’s back.
• Encourage breaks when doing homework because sitting extended periods of time can fatigue back muscles.
• Limit television and computer time.
• Teach them how to sit properly in a chair.
• Make sure they get plenty of exercise, keeping the back muscles in excellent condition.
• Encourage a warm up and cool down when exercising to reduce possible injury.
• Suggest a regular program of gentle stretching to help prevent tight muscles.
• Give extra fluids to drink.
Make sure you take care of your back also — children learn best by example.
An injury or a case of unspecific back pain can be treated with:
• Acetaminophen or ibuprofen as directed. Call physician during office hours if pain continues more than three days.
• During the first two days, apply a cold pack for 20 minutes, four times a day. After 48 hours apply a heating pad for 20 minutes if the pain recurs.
• While sleeping, lay on firm mattress on side with a pillow between the knees. Avoid sleeping on abdomen.
• Decrease activity for 48 hours then start gentle back stretching exercises.
With treatment the minor back pain usually resolves in one to two weeks. Call your doctor if pain worsens or does not go away. Early treatment for more serious back pain is essential for treatment and recovery.