Back pain in children can be especially destructive, affecting the physical, mental, and emotional health of the affected child and his or her family. The truth is, back pain, like any other condition, has a much greater impact on children than adults. These incidents also often signal serious underlying disorders, especially in children four years old or younger.
Medical experts advise that afflicted children visit a qualified back doctor if the pain lasts for a few days and/or if the pain has progressively worsened.
Causes & Symptoms
Certain conditions are more likely to cause back pain in children:
- Muscle Strain and Imbalances – This is the most common source for back pain in children and adolescents. Adolescents often suffer from more persistent back pain because they have tight hamstring muscles and weak abdominal muscles. Upper back pain exercises to stretch and strengthen these muscles may offer relief.
- Rounded Back – Adolescents may develop pain in the middle of their back (the thoracic spine), especially in thinner frames. Known as Scheuermann's kyphosis, this condition causes the vertebrae to become wedged. Prolonged activity and long periods of standing or sitting may make this condition worse.
- Stress Fracture of the Spine (Spondylolysis) – These fractures may cause lower back pain in children and adolescents. Stress fractures can result from normal growth spurts or sports injuries from sports like gymnastics, diving, and football that involve repeated spinal twisting and hyper-extending. Rest reduces the pain, but activity makes it worse. This back pain in children may enable only short steps or a stiff-legged gait when walking. The pain is mild, but it can radiate to the buttocks and legs.
- Slipped Vertebra (Spondylolisthesis) – This condition is more common among adolescents. Spondylolisthesis involves slippage of the vertebral bones. The most severe cases may narrow the spinal canal, resulting in nerve pressure and back pain. In children and adolescents pain develops anywhere along the spine, but usually occurs at the base.
- Infection – Patients between the ages of 1 and 5 are susceptible to infections between the disk space. This infection, known as diskitis, can cause back pain in children. However, older children and adolescents may also be affected. Symptoms include: spinal stiffness, pain in the lower back or abdomen, and walking with a limp (or not at all).
- Tumors – Though rare, tumors may cause back pain in children. The pain of spine tumors typically develops in the middle or lower back. This pain is often constant, worsens over time, and is unaffected by activity.