Low back pain can be crippling for adults, but new research suggests many children experience the condition, as well.
According to a study published online today by JAMA Pediatrics, low back pain in school-aged children becomes increasingly common the older kids get.
The report found that at age 7, about one percent of children experience low back pain. That number jumps to six percent at age 10, and 18 percent at ages 14 to16.
For the study, researchers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine reviewed published scientific studies involving low back pain in children. The authors found that most causes of low back pain in kids are benign, but they emphasize that its effects can be significant and can impact children’s daily activities, such as school attendance or participation in gym class or sports.
Developing lower back pain in adolescence, they note, is also a risk factor for having the condition as an adult.
The review found that there is no single risk factor for developing lower back pain. Most cases in children stem from musculoskeletal overuse and trauma associated with playing sports, the researchers found. Lower back pain was more common in children who took part in high levels of physical activity— and also in kids who got very little exercise.
Other possible risk factors include a quickening of growth, a previous back injury and family history of low back pain. Girls are at a greater risk for low back pain than boys, the study found.
Although there has been some concern about the potential risk of back pain from lugging heavy backpacks to and from school, “the evidence pointing to use of backpacks as a risk factor is weak,” the authors write.
While most cases of lower back pain in kids are relatively harmless, the researchers urge parents to get their children evaluated by a primary care physician if their children are experiencing symptoms.
“While some lower back pain needs to be treated by a specialist, most pediatricians who have a good understanding of the principles outlined in our article can help children and adolescents prevent and manage lower back pain,” Dr. MacDonald, lead author of the review and sports medicine physician at Nationwide Children’s, said in a statement. “Most pain with no specific cause responds to rest, rehabilitation and identification of predisposing risk factors.”
Furthermore, since children and teens’ bones and muscles are still developing, they are at an increased risk of injury, especially during periods of rapid growth, the authors explain. For this reason, pre-season sports conditioning programs are important for student athletes to allow them to gradually increase training intensity and help reduce injuries.
As a rule of thumb, experts suggest young athletes should not participate in more hours of sports in a week than the number of their years of age.