*Disclaimer: This information is for education purposes only. Always check with your doctor or other health care professional to make sure this information is right for your child.
Back pain is common in children and teenagers. About 50% of kids will deal with back pain by the time they’re 18 or 20 years old. The pain can be described as aching, burning, sharp or shooting, and can be felt on any area of the back.
It is important to know that back pain in children is different than back pain in adults. In most cases, back pain in children is not serious and goes away without treatment. In some cases, especially in children under 10 years old, back pain can be a sign of a more serious problem.
Back pain that results in any of these serious warning signs deserves further investigation:
• Back pain that is severe and/or worsening
• Back pain in a child under 5 years old
• Back pain that wakes a child from sleep
• Back pain with a fever
• Back pain with weight loss
• Back pain with weakness in the legs, a limp, or refusal to walk
• Back pain that started after a recent injury
• Back pain with loss of bowel or bladder control (or if child begins wetting the bed, having ‘accidents’, etc.)
• Back pain in a child who has a history of cancer or tuberculosis
• Back pain that keeps a child from doing his or her usual activities
During a visit to investigate back pain, we will first ask for a detailed health history. This helps identify reasons why the back pain might have started. Next, we will do a physical examination to gather more information. X-rays and other types of imaging may or may not be needed.
The most common cause of back pain in children is muscle strains or sprains. Other less common causes include abnormalities of the spinal bones (vertebrae), infections, arthritis, and tumors.
The treatment we recommend will depend on the reason for your child’s back pain. If none of the serious warning signs are present, treatment recommendations might include pain medicine (like Tylenol® or Advil®), applying heat, stretching and strengthening, and remaining active.