Whether it is associated with injury, repetitive work, poor posture, or just old age, back pain is one of the most common health problems among Canadian adults. Among them, four out of five people will suffer from at least one episode of back pain, especially between the ages of 30 and 50.
However, recent research shows that back pain often appears much earlier than we thought, sometimes in adolescence or even childhood.
André Bussières, a professor in the department of chiropractic at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, examined the issue with young people aged 6 to 12 in the Mauricie region in a recently published study.
News he discussed it with the man who is also a professor at McGill University’s School of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy.
Is Back Pain a Common Phenomenon in Children and Adolescents?
Accurate large-scale data in children are still erratic, but back pain is much more common than we think, sometimes from the start of primary school.
For a long time, research was more interested in why adults had back pain, given the costs associated with health care and absenteeism. In children, it was long thought to be rarer. Therefore, it was less studied. We now realize that problems can start very early in life and that a child with back pain is more likely to develop them later. This problem can influence a young person’s career: absenteeism, dropping out of certain sports, and even certain career options.
It is estimated that half of children will have an episode of back pain at some point in their growth. Prevalence increases throughout adolescence and early adulthood, before reaching its peak in middle age.
Where does back pain in young people come from?
In the past, when a child had back pain, we looked for a “serious” reason: cancer, infection, congenital disease, scoliosis. etc. However, this type of pathology represents a very small percentage of the causes of back pain.
The vast majority of back or neck problems, more than 90%, are musculoskeletal pains whose causes are a little more difficult to identify: muscle strains, joint irritations, ligament disorders, minor injuries that can result from sports activity.
In young people, puberty-related growth spurts are often thought to cause these pains. Is this the case?
There is a possible link between growth spurts and back pain. But for now, the scientific data is not consistent. Some researchers see a link between the growth of the spine and the appearance of back pain, others do not. For example, in the cohort we studied, 20% of children experienced periods of growth during the data collection period, but we did not observe a strong link with the onset of back pain. It’s still a bit mysterious, but it’s still a way to go.
Can we do something to prevent back pain in our children?
We must first encourage them to have a healthy lifestyle. As a child, we need to understand the fact that we have a life-sustaining backbone. Therefore, you should stay strong and healthy by moving regularly and avoiding sitting in bad postures or static positions for long periods of time. We also know that spending too much time in front of a computer, tablet, or phone increases your chances of getting a sore throat.
Young people should be as active as possible, while avoiding the traumas (shocks, falls) that are an important factor in the onset of back pain.
Is sport a double-edged sword for back health?
It is observed that children who play sports at low or moderate intensity seem more protected from the development of back pain than others. But higher intensity could increase the risk as high-level sport, where activities are intense and frequent, increases the risk of trauma and microtrauma. These increase the likelihood of seeing some osteoarthritis develop in the peripheral joints of the lower and upper extremities and in the spine. This is worrying because people are beginning to realize that osteoarthritis, formerly known as wear and tear, appears much earlier than previously thought, sometimes even in adulthood.
When should a healthcare professional be consulted?
You need to listen to the child. If we see him less active, if he refuses to do certain activities or complains of pain, this is a good indication. And if the pain is repetitive, it is a sign that it will not go away on its own. We must then consult to check the source of the pain and not the sign of something more serious, and to determine the appropriate treatment for the child. Above all, we want to prevent it from becoming chronic pain, which is much harder for therapists to treat. In general, the therapeutic response is faster in children than in adults, so treatments are usually shorter and more effective.