Teenage Back Pain on the Rise

November 2, 2015 in STSMPT

Only ten years ago, teenage back pain was considered uncommon. However, current epidemiologic studies show adolescent back pain to have a prevalence of 7% and probably higher. Why are teens having more back pain? How can we protect our children, and what should parents do when back pain sidelines their teens?


Various experts have hypothesized connections between teenage low back pain and phases of growth, psychosocial factors, school back packs, video games, television, obesity, organized athletics, and sedentary behavior. The science addressing each of these hypotheses is conflicting. While the idea that complaints of adolescent back pain may result from psychosocial factors has enjoyed some popularity in recent years, Dr. Cesar Fontecha’s recent work, published in Spine, finds that adolescents complaining of back pain score well on instruments measuring psychosocial well-being and parental relations.


Back pain does not affect the lives or emotional wellbeing of teens as severely as it does with adults. When teens experience back pain that is intense enough to affect their normal routines, the main goals should be to reduce the duration of the back pain episode, promote activity, and avoid requesting over-treatment from healthcare providers. Most cases of teenage back pain are considered idiopathic – which in this context means there are no serious injuries or identifiable anatomical defects in the back.


That being said, here is an important consideration. Dr. Mette Harreby and colleagues conducted a 25-year prospective cohort study on teenage low back pain. They find that adolescent low back pain predicts adult back pain, increased morbidity, and decreased working capacity. It seems that teenage low back pain serves as a possible harbinger of worse things to come in following decades. Or, a more positive outlook may be that teenage low back pain serves as an excellent opportunity to interrupt the processes that contribute to chronic low back pain in teens and adults. Teenage bodies respond quickly to therapy and specific changes in activity. Research has identified multiple, modifiable, musculoskeletal deficiencies that predict teenage low back pain. These include specific range of motion deficits in the low back, poor trunk muscle strength, and decreased trunk muscle endurance. Targeted stretches, corrective exercises, and a handful of healthcare visits may be all that is needed to make life-altering improvements for teens.

Teenage Back Pain

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