Kids are, from the perspective of an adult, shockingly flexible. Their bodies have not yet absorbed years of slow, grinding insult and injury. As a result, back injuries are much less common in children than in adults.
When your child complains of back pain, you should take it very seriously. About a third of the time there’s a serious reason, whether due to an injury, infection or tumor. Even the other two-thirds of the time, they have some musculoskeletal issue, like a muscle or ligament strain.
Kids are not adept at expressing degrees of pain, or nuances, like whether a pain is stabbing, throbbing or aching. They just know it hurts.
Don’t dismiss your child as a drama king or queen.
Most childhood back pain is the result of injury. Young children, and many boys of all non-adult ages, throw their bodies around with reckless abandon. Once children begin playing organized sports, the incidence of injury rises.
Adolescent and teenage gymnasts are especially prone to back injuries as they stress immature bones, muscles and connective tissue.
If your child suffers a back injury, seek medical attention. A chiropractor is a good place to start.
You should know that x-rays don’t always tell the whole story. Fractures from trauma don’t always show up on x-rays for a couple of weeks. If pain persists are an x-ray is negative, another test may be necessary.
Packing Pain on the Back
One source of about 5,000 childhood visits to emergency rooms annually for back injuries is backpacks. Schoolchildren heft too much weight, poorly distributed, into their packs and then drag them around with poor posture. They lean forward, arch their backs or lean to one side.
All this puts a daily strain on the back, neck and shoulders, until it begins to hurt.
The best solution to that is rest, analgesics like ibuprofen, and lightening up the backpack. Short-term chiropractic care and/or physical therapy may be indicated for mild acute injuries like that.
More Serious Injury
Particularly as kids age, increase their physical activity and test their physical limits, the injuries can get more serious. Stress fractures are more common in adolescents who hyperextend their backs. Stress fractures can cause instability in the spine and create misalignment.
Most adolescents and teens respond better to non-invasive treatments for stress fractures, like chiropractic, physical therapy and yoga, than to surgery. Studies show that most children completely heal and are in no further danger as adults from childhood stress fractures.
The most serious back injury that children suffer, disc herniation, is the least common. This involves a rupture in the soft jelly-like disc that cushions each vertebra. The disc material can bulge out of the disc, pressing against the nerves and spinal cord, and causing pain, numbness and/or weakness in extremities.
Most often in children, a herniated disc can be managed with muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, and chiropractic care.
Some herniations require surgery. The good news is that children is that they tend to recover fully.
People who suffer back pain at any time in their childhood should seek chiropractic care to avoid chronic back issues. Prevention is the best way to keep the back, and all the many bodily functions it affects, functioning right.