Back Pain in Children: What to Do About It and How to Prevent It

Parents and health care providers that treat children will often hear complaints of their aches and pains. Studies have found that low back pain (LBP) in kids is quite common in kids past the age of eight (varied reports range from six to 33 per cent) and climb as high as 39-71 per cent by the time the child reaches 15 years. Researchers in the Physiotherapy Department at Monash University in Australia decided to comb the research for preventing repeat difficulties of LBP in children. Unfortunately, the existing studies are limited in what health care providers can do to delay or decrease this problematic condition in children.
Hill and Keating a PT/PhD team set about to improve our understanding of the research on specific or modifiable risk factors that increase back pain in children. They found nine predictors of future bouts of LBP in the prior literature, but none of them were supported by follow up independent research reports. Exercise, posture, education, and decreasing causes back pain were studied; however the reviews on what to do about it concluded that more research was needed.

This study looked at 708 participants between the ages of eight and 11, which is the age bracket with the most rapidly increasing prevalence in LBP. They were motivated to focus on an intervention in the study group that encouraged kids to pay attention to their spine posture throughout the day, incorporate a basic back movement program into their daily routine (much like the three-times-per-day teeth brushing model), and educate them on behaviors associated with a healthy back.  The control group was only provided with a basic spine education program.

The results of this study found no relations on the percentage of children reporting LBP throughout the study period following participation in the simple spine exercises, posture and education group. The children in the experimental exercise plus education group did however report less problems with LBP and less first episodes of LBP than their classmates in the education only control group. This study also found support in treating children that are prone to have another bout of LBP if they have had a prior history of LBP.  Five per cent of the subjects with LBP missed school due to their pain, nine per cent missed out on sport participation, and another nine per cent had LBP that was bad enough to visit a health care provider. Thus, any benefit the experimental group may have gained by doing the more active spine program cannot be connected to doing the exercises.  The bottom line found that regular exercise and education appear to decrease low back pain in children between eight and 11 more than education alone.