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New Study Finds Back Pain More Common in Kids

Blog New Study Finds Back Pain More Common in Kids

According to an article in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, back pain is becoming more common among children. The study found that up to one in three adolescents currently suffer from back pain.

Sarah Johnson, a pediatric physical therapist at Indiana University Health, says back pain in kids is something she sees frequently. “There's definitely been a higher rate [of back pain] now than ever in the past,” she says.

So, what's causing this issue? A small percentage, Johnson says, suffer from sports-related injuries. But the vast majority are getting hardly any exercise at all. “Kids are not moving or playing as much as they used to,” says Johnson. “Instead, they are watching more TV and playing on tablets and computers. This lack of exercise causes weak core muscles and poor posture, which can lead kids to overuse their back muscles to compensate.” This underuse of core muscles and overuse of back muscles can lead to soreness and chronic pain, she says. Items like heavy backpacks can also exacerbate the pain.

What can parents do to soothe a child’s back pain? “For an acute injury, you should see a doctor first,” suggests Johnson. But for chronic back pain, Johnson recommends an evaluation with a physical therapist. “In Indiana we have Direct Access, which means you can see a physical therapist without a doctor's permission.” In physical therapy, therapists treat back pain by helping a child strengthen their core muscles, promote good posture, and increase their spinal flexibility – all of which can decrease their back pain over time.

In the interim, prevention is key and the first step in sidestepping pain is posture. “Even just tilting your head forward, sitting up straight, and thinking about your posture throughout the day” can all strengthen core muscles and align the spinal column, decreasing back pain in the long term, explains Johnson. “I'm also a big believer in yoga,” Johnson adds, who notes that beginner yoga courses for kids, widely available on YouTube, can help maintain their flexibility and good alignment.

The good news: Back pain in kids is usually completely manageable, says Johnson. “We have lots of ways to treat it and help decrease it. Children can still live a normal life.” 

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