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Back Pain in Children and Teenagers

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Because children and teenagers are more flexible, back pain is not as common in this age group as it is in adults. Only about 1 in 4 young competitive athletes and 1 in 6 young recreational athletes will have occasional back pain. Back pain in a child that occurs immediately after an injury or an athletic event should be checked by a doctor.

Back pain in children and teens may also be caused by an overuse injury. Children or their parents may not be able to remember when the back problem started or to recall an injury or change in activity that triggered the back problem. Carrying a heavy backpack may increase a child's chances of a back problem or injury.

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Back pain that is severe enough to limit a child's activity or that lasts for 2 weeks or longer needs to be checked by a doctor.

Back conditions that affect children and teens

  • Pain that is made worse by specific movements, such as handsprings in gymnastics, the butterfly stroke in swimming, or contact sports, may be caused by spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis. Young athletes with low back pain have a higher-than-average incidence of spondylolysis. These injuries are usually caused by activity and overuse.
  • Scheuermann's disease causes pain that is not severe enough to limit activity. It is the second most common cause of back pain in children and young adults. Your child may have a rounded spine.
  • A child who is awakened at night by pain may have an infection, arthritis, or tumor of the spine.
  • Back pain that is present with changes in balance or coordination may be caused by a problem in the brain or spinal cord.

Children sometimes imitate the behavior and symptoms of adults and older children in the family. Symptoms may be caused by other problems they are having in the home or at school. When these problems are present, it is important to help the child and family find appropriate counseling and support.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 23, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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