When you think about back pain, it’s likely that you picture someone older, or someone who has worked a laborious job for many years. Maybe an athlete crosses your mind who has put their body through the wringer.
The point is, when most people think about people with back pain, the last group that crosses their mind is children.
Only about 30 in 100 children experience back pain, but that number is certainly enough for concern. And, if it’s your child complaining that their back is aching, you’ll want to know what to do about it right away!
The best thing to do is to get an official diagnosis so you can have a better idea of how to help your child with their pain. Some problems might be small and easy to fix. Other types of back pain can be indicators of something bigger going on.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five potential reasons why your child’s back may be hurting, why you should take that seriously, and what you can do in each situation.
- Back Pain from Muscular Issues
Muscular back pain is far and away the most common back problem for young children and adolescents.
If you have a little one, you probably already know that they’re moving nonstop. Older children might be involved in sports, gymnastics, dance, etc. It’s just as easy for a child to strain a muscle doing everyday activities as it is for an adult to do the same. Injuries can occur from overusing the muscles, moving them the wrong way, or poor conditioning.
In order to make sure the problem your child is facing is muscular, an X-ray can make the diagnosis. Most of the time, this is a last resort for doctors, since they may not want to frequently run such tests on a child.
In most cases, when it’s determined that your child’s back pain is coming from a muscular issue, rest is best. In rarer cases, your child may need extra treatment like:
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic help
- Stretching exercises
Whatever the case, most muscular problems can be taken care of and shouldn’t affect your child on a long-term basis.
- Poor Alignment
Alignment issues can be another common problem for children and may cause back pain along with other issues. For example, over 100,000 children in the U.S. alone are diagnosed with scoliosis every year.
Subtle deformities may not cause pain, but they still could cause other visible symptoms that could disrupt your child’s life, including:
- A noticeably curved spine
- Your child leans to one side
- Their ribs stick out on one side
- Their clothes don’t fit properly
While scoliosis isn’t the only alignment abnormality, it’s certainly one of the most common. Thankfully, there are several treatment solutions to help your child realign their spine. The most common are wearing a brace or surgery, but those really only occur in severe cases of scoliosis. If you’re worried that your child might be dealing with an alignment abnormality or they’re complaining of pain because of it, contacting a medical specialist like those at Southwest Scoliosis Institute is often your best option.
- Stress Fracture
No parent wants to think about their child being in the kind of pain a stress fracture can cause. Unfortunately, it happens. The sooner it’s addressed and treated, the sooner your child can start to find relief from that pain and move forward with their lives.
A stress fracture on the spine can occur early on and your child may not even feel the symptoms of it until months, or even years later.
Unfortunately, by that time, the damage may have gotten worse, which is what causes the pain.
Stress fractures most often occur in children who play sports, especially those involving movements where they have to bend backward. Divers and gymnasts are especially susceptible to this particular issue.
In some cases, a stress fracture can occur on both sides of the spine. When that happens, the vertebrae in your child’s back can actually shift and become misaligned, leading to even greater issues.
In many cases, stress fractures can’t be healed. They won’t just “go away” on their own, either, or get better over time. That’s especially true if they have gone unnoticed or ignored for a long period of time. If your child is an athlete, hearing that they won’t be able to play their favorite sport again for quite some time can be hard to handle. It could even lead to mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. So, if your child is active and is complaining of back pain, it’s important to get a professional diagnosis right away.
Children who experience extreme pain from a stress fracture can benefit from surgery, while others may find relief through different types of physical therapy.
Children are susceptible to a variety of different infections, whether they get sick for a few days or they scrape their knee and don’t keep it clean. But, they can also be more prone to infections of the spinal bone, or even an infection in the discs of their spine.
The worst part about this particular problem is that it can be difficult to initially diagnose. It’s typically a problem found in toddlers or young children. Some of the most common symptoms include a low-grade fever or mild back pain. When signs of infection are present (such as an increase in your child’s white blood cell count), doctors will look at all of the symptoms your child is experiencing before making an official diagnosis. If they believe there is an infection present, they will want to run imaging tests so they can pinpoint the exact location.
The good news is that children with spinal infections can be treated. Like any other infection, antibiotics can help to clear things up. They are most often given intravenously to get rid of the infection as quickly as possible. In rare cases, if the infection doesn’t get better or continues to spread, surgery may be required. Thankfully, that’s a rare occurrence. But, as always, it’s important to catch the infection early on. Let other signs of sickness (especially a fever) be your tell-tale signs for this problem.
- Benign or Malignant Tumors
Hearing that your child has a tumor can be a scary situation for any parent. But, like all of the other issues here, it does occur for some kids. Thankfully, spinal tumors are rare in children. Sometimes they cause pain, sometimes they don’t. Because they may not be noticeable by the naked eye, some other signs to look out for include:
- Weight loss
- Your child complaining of pain, especially at night when they try to sleep
- General sick feeling
Imaging tests are the best way to determine if your child has a tumor. If it’s discovered that they do, their doctor will likely want to remove it and run tests to determine whether it is malignant or benign. Depending on those results, your child will be able to move forward with the appropriate treatment. If the tumor is malignant, further testing may be needed, and you may have to consider different types of cancer treatment.
Having a medical team you can trust and a doctor your child is comfortable with is incredibly important in these situations. Again, the sooner you catch a disease like cancer or anything else that could be causing your child’s health to deteriorate, the easier it is to treat.
Don’t Ignore Your Child’s Back Pain
None of these possible back pain scenarios are meant to scare you. Rather, they should help you to understand how important it is to take your child’s back pain seriously, as soon as possible. The sooner you’re able to get an official diagnosis for your child’s pain, the sooner you can start treatment options for them.
In many cases, treating your child’s back pain now can help them to make a full recovery, so they won’t have to deal with additional pain as an adult. Sometimes, that treatment can be as simple as having your child rest for a few weeks. Other times, medical attention might be needed as quickly as possible to ensure your child doesn’t have lasting problems.
It’s normal to not pay much attention to your child’s back health, not because you’re not watching them closely, but because back problems in kids are rare. As stated earlier, most people think about older individuals when back problems are brought up.
But, if your child starts complaining about pain or you notice any of the other symptoms associated with more serious problems from this list, it’s a good idea to take them to their doctor. At the very least, you can rule out any serious issues, and you can help your child to find relief from their pain. Back problems might be rare in children, but they do occur. Don’t take a chance on letting your child deal with pain now and later on in life.