The back is a complex and critical component of the human body, so being worried about back pain is a completely rational response. Because most people generally associate back pain with old age, parents are often greatly concerned when their children complain of back pain. Kids are tough, but how are you supposed to know what to do when they experience back pain?
Check out our guide of common causes for back pain in kids, so you know when to worry:
The vast majority of back pain reported by children is temporary and easily managed. Here are some of back pain’s most common causes:
Back Muscle, Tendon and Ligament Injuries
Injuries to the muscles, tendons or ligaments in the back are the number one cause of back pain in children—especially if kids are involved in high-intensity sports such as gymnastics and football. These injuries are often referred to as “soft tissue injuries.” Most parents don’t realize that sprains are injuries specific to ligaments, whereas strains are injuries to tendons and muscles.
Children tend to be incredibly active. Between sports and regular play, they use their muscles in more ways than we could possibly list here. If you have a particularly active child, their back pain has likely been caused by simple overuse of their back, which they should recover from quickly.
Following long days of sitting in desks and carrying heavy book bags at school, children can begin to feel muscle fatigue. The strong strap muscles in the back help to keep us erect and standing tall throughout the day. The fatigue of these muscles, caused consistent strain throughout the school day, can lead to pack pain in students.
When to See a Specialist
One of the most important things to know about back pain in children is what back pain signs are cause for concern. Here are a few key signals that your child’s back pain may be something more serious:
Pain, Weakness or Numbness in the Legs
This is one of the most serious signs that your child’s back pain may be something more. If your child is experiencing pain, weakness or numbness in their legs, they may have a disc herniation, a epidural abscess or, in extreme cases, a tumor. If your child is experiencing these symptoms, bring them in to see a physician at the Orthopedic Institute.
Pain Persists Over Time
Another sign that your child’s back pain may be something more serious is persistence over time—especially following a traumatic injury. Pain that lasts beyond several weeks may be a sign of a more serious, ongoing spinal issue that needs surgical intervention.
Doesn’t Respond to Pain Relievers
When your child’s back pain doesn’t respond to common pain treatments, such as rest, ice and NSAID pain relievers (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) it may be a sign that their back pain is more significant than a common play-related injury. If your child experiences significant pain that is unaided by pain relievers, you should consult with a physician—especially if that pain keeps them up at night.
Back Pain Accompanied by a Fever
If your child’s back pain is joined by a fever, it may be indicative of an infective process. If the back pain is ruled to be caused by an infection, your child may be prescribed antibiotics to help their body combat the infection. Spinal infections are also common amongst intravenous drug abusers.
Back Pain with a History of Cancer
If your family or your child specifically have a history of cancer, it should be a key consideration when experiencing back pain. Back pain caused by cancer is often accompanied with unintended weight loss. If your child experiences back pain that is unrelenting and worsens at night, see a doctor as soon as possible to ensure that they don’t have a tumor or metastasis to the spine—especially if that pain is accompanied by unexplained weight loss.
If you want your child to see someone about their back pain right away, the Orthopedic Institute’s Walk-In Clinic can help. Find out why a walk-in visit may be beneficial. Otherwise, make an appointment to see one of our pediatric back specialists, Dr. Carlson, Dr. Geisinger or Dr. Wingate.