Why More Kids Are Suffering From Back Pain
Two out of five kids have suffered low back pain by the time they hit their teen years, according to a recent study. Problem is, only a small amount of them – just seven percent – seek help. Find out why kids are complaining and how you can help prevent it.
Low back pain is something you might think only adults suffer from. While it’s true that this is more of an adult issue than a kid one, that doesn’t mean kids are exempt. In fact, two out of five kids have suffered low back pain by the time they hit their teen years, according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics. Problem is, only a small amount of them – just seven percent of teens – seek help.
That may explain why Michael P. McKenna, M.D., pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, hasn’t seen many kids in his office complaining about low back pain, which he attributes in part to age. The above study found that while back pain affects one percent of seven year olds and six percent of 10 year olds, that number rises to 18 percent in kids aged 14 to 16. “Older kids just don’t see the doctor as much,” he says.
So what’s causing kids to experience low back pain? Outside of sports injuries, low back pain from daily activities may have several causes. For kids, that includes lack of physical fitness, obesity, physical strain from carrying things that are too heavy, and incorrect posture, Dr. McKenna says.
Among those, though, obesity may be the biggest. “Having extra weight pulls the body in all different directions, which then causes pain,” Dr. McKenna says, adding that most back pain from daily activities is the result of the back being stronger than the core. The body then gets out of balance, which is made even worse if extra weight is added to the frame.
Yet back pain, especially among kids, isn’t normal, which is why Dr. McKenna recommends calling your doctor if your child has complained about it. This is critical for kids under 10, as back pain is much less common in kids that young. At that point, back pain could be the sign of something bigger. “It could indicate a fracture, infection, tumor or rheumatologic issue,” he says.
In the meantime, though, you can keep low back pain at bay in your kids with the following strategies:
- Monitor your child’s weight: Weight issues tend to be a family problem – if one member is overweight, chances are other members of the family will be, too – so this will most likely require a group effort, Dr. McKenna says. But because excess weight can put kids at risk for numerous other health problems like heart disease and diabetes, you need to take steps to help your child lose weight if necessary.
- Be smart about backpacks: Backpacks that are either too heavy or slung over one shoulder can be a contributing factor to that pain. Encourage your child to wear the backpack with two straps and not overload it, Dr. McKenna says.
- Get your child moving: Adults aren’t the only ones who need to move more. So, too, do kids, especially now that schools have cut recess time and kids are spending more time being sedentary, thanks to digital devices. Dr. McKenna’s prescription? “Kids need to get sweaty for an hour every day,” he says.
-- By Karen Asp