Back Pain in Children - Treatment, Complications and Prevention

Authored by Dr Laurence Knott, 16 Jun 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr John Cox, 16 Jun 2017

In many children, back pain is short-lived and settles down without treatment. Studies have found that this happens in about half of all teenagers with back pain, and it's usually due to over-enthusiastic sporting activities or the use of backpacks.

If the back pain is persistent it's important to investigate the cause. Simple painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may help. Your child may be referred to a physiotherapist who will advise about any changes which can be made to your child's lifestyle to relieve the pain and stop it from happening again. They may also provide various forms of physical treatment and advise a course of exercises that can be done at home,.

If your child's pain lasts longer than 4-6 weeks, is getting worse, or is accompanied by unusual features such as a persistent high temperature (fever) or numbness, they may be referred to a specialist. If there is a serious cause, it is usually important to start treatment as soon as possible. The treatment advised by the specialist will depend on the cause.

In many cases, the back pain goes away without any treatment and there are no complications. It is important to diagnose serious causes so that treatment can be started sooner rather than later. Otherwise it is possible that back pain may become persistent or that a complication such as curvature may develop. If the child develops long-term back pain, they may become depressed and unable to do some of the things that children enjoy, such as playing games and taking part in sports.

It turns out that when our mothers told us to stop slouching they were giving us good advice. Back pain can often be avoided by sitting and standing properly. Lifting properly and avoiding repeated actions which strain the spine (such as over-exertion during sports) can also be helpful.

Keeping your child happy and stress-free is often easier said than done, but mental health difficulties are known to be associated with back pain.

Backpacks are often a cause of back pain in children. Make sure they are not too heavy and the weight is equally distributed (for example, by carrying the backpack on two shoulders rather than one). If a locker is available, encourage your child to use it. Swimming is helpful but there is little evidence to suggest that other sporting activities prevent back pain. Be sensible about the amount of exercise your child does. Too much or too little can be harmful.

Further reading and references

  • Taxter AJ, Chauvin NA, Weiss PF; Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain in the pediatric population. Phys Sportsmed. 2014 Feb42(1):94-104. doi: 10.3810/psm.2014.02.2052.

  • Ramirez N, Flynn JM, Hill BW, et al; Evaluation of a systematic approach to pediatric back pain: the utility of magnetic resonance imaging. J Pediatr Orthop. 2015 Jan35(1):28-32. doi: 10.1097/BPO.0000000000000190.

  • Spiteri K, Busuttil ML, Aquilina S, et al; Schoolbags and back pain in children between 8 and 13 years: a national study. Br J Pain. 2017 May11(2):81-86. doi: 10.1177/2049463717695144. Epub 2017 Feb 1.

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