Back Pain in Children - Diagnosis

How is back pain in children diagnosed?

Back pain is common and often nothing to worry about. However, there are occasions when you need to take your child to the doctor.

When should my child see a doctor?

There are a number of situations in which your child should see a doctor:

  • If they are under 4 years old.
  • If their back pain goes on for more than four weeks.
  • If their back pain stops them from doing things.
  • If they feel unwell and/or have a high temperature (fever) or weight loss.
  • If the pain is getting worse.
  • If they have pins and needles, numbness or weakness.
  • If they start developing curvature of the spine.
  • If they start complaining of stiffness or difficulty in moving.

What will the doctor do?

The doctor will ask you or your child questions about their back pain and general health (see the section on Symptoms).

The doctor will examine your child. They may want to check:

  • The site of the pain.
  • The site of any tenderness.
  • The appearance of your child's back (looking for unusual features such as muscle wasting or curvature).
  • The way your child walks..
  • How much your child can bend their back..
  • Your child's nervous system (including signs of weakness or numbness).

Will my child need any tests?

Once the doctor has obtained information about your child's symptoms and examined them, they will occasionally want to do some tests. In most cases this will be a blood test and an X-ray.

Occasionally your child will need more complicated tests, which will need to be requested by a specialist. This may include:

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  • Taxter AJ, Chauvin NA, Weiss PF; Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain in the pediatric population. Phys Sportsmed. 2014 Feb 42(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 Jan 35(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 May 11(2):81-86. doi: 10.1177/2049463717695144. Epub 2017 Feb 1.
Dr Laurence Knott
Peer Reviewer:
Dr John Cox
Document ID:
29433 (v1)
Last Checked:
16 June 2017
Next Review:
25 June 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.