Back pain in children is becoming more common in recent years. Back pain tends to affect more girls than boys, although it is still more unusual in children than it is in adults. While more children are experiencing back pain, very few see their doctor about it. If you’re concerned about your child’s back health, look out for these symptoms.
What are the symptoms of back pain on children?
Back pain will be felt as discomfort in the back. The pain may be fleeting pain or it may last for a long time. Their discomfort could be mild or severe. It can be felt most in the centre of the back or radiate to other parts of the body, like the arms or the legs.
In some cases, back pain can keep your child awake at night, leading to problems with performance at school, and your child feeling unhappy. Pain in the back could also impact on their ability to play games or sports.
You may be able to identify activities that make their experience of pain worse, like lifting or carrying things, and things that make it better, like rest. In some cases, the levels of pain can change for no apparent reason.
You may notice other symptoms, like a high temperature, weakness, numbness, pins and needles, or trouble with their bowels. Pain might affect the way that they walk, bend, and move. They may have a tender spot in the middle of their back, or their back may even begin to look twisted or curved.
What causes back pain in children?
It used to be thought that back pain often had a serious cause. However, we now know that lots of children and teenagers just have back pain with no underlying condition to worry about. Despite lots of tests, most children turn out to have no real cause for back pain. This doesn’t mean that you should forget about serious conditions. Try to strike a balance between testing for serious conditions without subjecting your child to lots of unnecessary and often unpleasant tests.
- Strain of the muscles or ligaments of the spine due to repeated movements, such as in sports or dancing.
- A slipped disc, or Scheuermann’s disease, a condition where uneven growth of the small bones that make up the spine causes the spine to curve.
- Vertebral fractures.
- Spondylolysis, which is wear and tear in the spine, most often seen in active teenagers.
- Spondylolisthesis, which is a slippage of a vertebra forwards or backwards. This can be a complication of sondylolysis.
- Ankylosing spondylitis.
Younger and Older Children
- Infection. This is most common in those under the age of ten. This can be caused by discitis (infection of a disc), osteomyelitis, pyelonephritis, or retroperitoneal infection (infection underneath the peritoneum, the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity).
- In rare cases, tumors of the bone or spinal cord.
- Congenital disorders. These are conditions your child is born with, such as scoliosis. Learn more here about these conditions.
- Diseases that affect the whole body, such as sickle cell disease.