Advice on Back pain in Children and Adolescence

By Megan Miller-Zutshi, Lead Physiotherapist

Back Pain in Children and Adolescents

For a long time back pain in children and adolescents has either been dismissed, or thought of as a rare and serious condition. However recent studies have revealed the presence of “non-specific” back pain within primary and secondary school aged children, almost at a similar level to complaints within the adult population. 

This pain does not however always mean there is a serious problem, but it should not be dismissed either.  As with the adult population, non-specific back pain in children can be the result of several different factors.

  1. A lack of exercise resulting in a sedentary lifestyle can result in weakness in the muscles around the spine and stiffness in the joints. Surprisingly school aged children can spend in excess of five hours a day sat down during the week.
  2. Poor posture can cause abnormal loading through the joints and soft tissues around the spine, which results in undue stress being placed on the back. Time spent sitting crouched over books or mobile devices puts additional strain on these areas exacerbating the problem.
  3. Carrying heavy school bags can also lead to unnecessary strain being placed on the back and neck.
  4. Rapid growth spurts can result in an increase in bone growth, which can cause tension in the muscles resulting in pain.
  5. High calorie diets can lead to weight gain which puts additional stress on the body.
  6. Psychological factors such as stress and anxiety can also have a negative impact on posture.

All these factors can be the cause of “non-specific” back pain in children, which can understandably be worrying for both child and caregiver.  The good news is they are manageable.

  1. Physical activity is an essential part of back health. Developing muscle strength and maintaining flexibility will keep the muscles around the spine strong and will provide more support for the back.  This will help to ease some of the pressure placed on it from being inactive.  Participating regularly in an enjoyable activity means that children are more likely to stick to it and get the most benefit from it. 
  2. Adopting a good posture is vital for reducing fatigue within the body, as this can negatively impact on concentration and learning as well as putting strain on the spine and muscles. A good posture refers to the position where there is minimal tension on the joints and surrounding muscles and where movement can occur freely. Good posture should be encouraged at home and school.
  3. Minimising carrying load and carrying a bag correctly will also reduce the strain on the back. Children should use a rucksack, wearing both shoulder straps, and if possible, a waist and chest strap as additional support. Try to spread the load out within the rucksack and only carry essential items whenever possible.
  4. Stretching during and following a growth spurt will help the muscles lengthen and adapt to the additional bone growth that occurs during a growth spurt.
  5. Maintaining a healthy diet to ensure that excessive weight gain is kept to a minimum will help to reduce any undue strain on the back.
  6. Encouraging children to talk to someone if they are feeling stressed or anxious, and employing coping strategies for dealing with stress and anxiety can help to reduce these negative feelings, which in turn can reduce the negative impact these can have on posture.

If your child is suffering with back pain and would like any help or advice from our physiotherapists or sports injury therapists, why not book online at our Thornbury, Thornbury Active or Yate clinics.