Whether it’s related to injury, repetitive work, poor posture, or simply 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 during adolescence or even childhood.
André Bussière, professor of chiropractic at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières, looked into this issue among young people aged 6 to 12 in the Moricy region in a recently published study.
news discussed this with a man who is also a professor in the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy at McGill University.
Is back pain common in children and adolescents?
Accurate data on a large scale in children is still sketchy, but back pain is much more common than we think, sometimes since the beginning of elementary school.
For a long time, research has been more interested in why adults get back pain, given the costs associated with health care and absenteeism. In children, it has long been thought to be less common. Therefore, it has been less studied. We now understand that problems can start very early in life and that a child with back pain is more at risk of developing it later. This problem can have an impact on a young person’s trajectory: skipping school, avoiding certain sports, even choosing certain professions.
It is estimated that half of children will experience a bout of back pain at some point in their growth. The prevalence increases during adolescence and early adulthood before peaking in middle age.
Where does back pain in young people come from?
In the past, when a child had a backache, we first of all looked for a “serious” cause: cancer, infection, congenital disease, scoliosis. etc. However, this type of pathology is a very small percentage of the causes of back pain.
The vast majority of back or neck problems, more than 90%, are musculoskeletal pain, the causes of which are a little more difficult to identify: muscle strain, joint irritation, ligament disorders, minor injuries that can result from sports.
Growth spurts associated with puberty are often thought to be the cause of these pains in young people. Is it so?
There is a possible link between growth spurts and back pain. But for now, the scientific evidence is inconsistent. Some researchers see a connection between the growth of the spine and the appearance of back pain, others do not. For example, in the cohort we studied, 20% of the children experienced periods of growth during the data collection period, but we did not observe a strong association with the onset of back pain. It’s still a bit of a mystery, but it’s a path that has yet to be explored.
Is there anything we can do to prevent back pain in our children?
We must first of all encourage them to a healthy lifestyle. A child, like an adult, must understand the fact that we have a spine that supports us all our lives. Therefore, it must be kept strong and healthy by moving regularly and avoiding prolonged sitting in bad postures or in static positions. We also know that too much time spent on a computer, tablet, or phone increases the likelihood of neck pain.
Young people should be as active as possible, while avoiding injuries (bumps, falls), which are an important factor in the occurrence of back pain.
So, sport is a double-edged sword for back health?
It has been observed that children who play sports at low or moderate intensity seem to be better protected from developing back pain than others. But higher intensity can increase risk, because high-level sports, where the activities are intense and frequent, increase the risk of injury and microtrauma. This increases the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis in the peripheral joints of the lower and upper extremities, as well as in the spine. This is worrisome because people are starting to realize that osteoarthritis, formerly known as wear and tear, appears much earlier than thought, sometimes even in early adulthood.
When should you contact a healthcare professional?
You must listen to the child. If we see him less active, if he refuses to perform certain activities, or complains of pain, this is a good sign. And if the pain recurs, it’s a sign that it won’t go away on its own. Then we should consult to check the origin of the pain, not a sign of something more serious, and determine the appropriate treatment for the child. First of all, we want to prevent pain from becoming chronic, which is much more difficult for therapists to manage. In general, the therapeutic response in children is faster than in adults, so treatment is often shorter and more effective.