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Back Pain in Young People

How common is back pain in young people?

 Back pain (including low back, middle back and neck pain) is quite common in people of all ages including young people. Around 1 in every 3 young people will have back pain each month, so it is likely that you or someone you know has had back pain. We know that it is more common to get back pain as we get older, by this we mean that there are more 17 year olds who have had back pain compared to the number of 9 year olds who have had back pain.

What is causing my back pain?

Your back is made up of lots of parts such as bones, discs, joints and muscles and each part can cause pain. If you have back pain, it is a good idea to go and see your doctor and get it checked out. Most often you doctor will check for anything serious that is causing your back pain, and the good news is that serious cases are rare. We know that when pain is NOT caused by any serious medical condition, it is safe to keep moving and doing your normal activities like going to school, doing chores and your homework.

What activities should I do and not do when my back hurts?

While some of your everyday activities such as going to school, doing chores or playing sport might be difficult, it is still really important that you do as much of the ‘normal stuff’ as you can. This is because these activities make sure you keep working your muscles so they don’t get stiff, and you can keep seeing your friends, getting outside, and being active. Of course while your back is hurting, you may need to change the way you do your everyday activities. Below are a few examples of activities that are part of a normal day for young person and ways that you may go about changing how you do them, but still do them! Lastly, we know that bed rest is not helpful for back pain so keep moving and you will find that you can do a bit more each day!

Activities and things you can try for relief and recovery

Sitting at school or doing homework

Try breaking up long periods of sitting with:

  • Standing
  • A short walk or marching on the spot
  • Doing some gentle stretching movements such as bending forwards, backwards, side to side. Once you have been moving sit back down.

If you are at school please ask your teacher if it is ok for you to do this before you start. Then everyone is happy!

Physical Education, playing sport or training

When your back hurts it is important that you still do as much as you can but you may need to limit activities that make your pain worse. You may not be able to play football or train, but you can still walk around and collect the balls or help your coach to coach! Remember you can still take part but need to realise that you may not be able to do everything as fast or as good as you could when your back didn’t hurt BUT you will be able to do more and more as time goes on and it is likely that you will be back playing again soon.

Standing still in assembly or at a party

Try to keep moving, even a little bit may help e.g. marching on the spot, go for a short walk, or bending your back forwards or side to side. You can even change between sitting and standing.

What else can affect my back pain?

Your back pain can be made better or worse by your thoughts, feelings and mood. For example, being sad, stressed or anxious can actually make your pain worse, while being positive, knowing the facts of back pain and getting on with life can actually make your pain better. Focussing on the pain is not helpful, think of the last time you bumped your toe – it really hurt – but as soon as you got on with life and focussed on something else the pain seemed to go away. It is the same story with back pain!

How long will my back pain last?

What we know about back pain and how long it will last has come from work done in adults but we don’t think the story will be any different for young people. For most people we know that their back pain will settle quickly (over 1 to 2 weeks) and they will make a complete recovery. For a smaller number of people it may take longer than this to get better, and they may need some more help from their doctor.

It is important to know that back pain is a 'recurrent' problem which means that it is quite common for people (even young people) who have had back pain to have it again in the future. This is just the nature of back pain but knowing the facts about back pain (such as knowing the pain will get better quickly and may come back in the future) can help you to be less worried and scared about the pain!

Does a certain type of person get back pain?

We know that every person is different but there are a few features about a person that may make someone more likely to have back pain. Features that may make a person more likely to have back pain include being taller, being very active, being a smoker or having a negative mood (such as being really sad or anxious). Lots of other features have been put forward (such as a history of bodily pain or injury, your parent’s job) but we don’t yet know if these factors make it more or less likely that you will have back pain.

Do I need an X-ray or scan to see if anything is wrong with my back?

Most people do not need an x-ray or scan of their back, but your doctor (or health care professional) is the best person to advise on this. Your doctor will decide if you need an x-ray or not by asking you questions about your back such as when and how your back pain started, what makes your pain worse and better. Your doctor may also have a look at your back to see how your back moves and what makes it hurt. Most people with back pain do not need an x-ray or scan because they are not usually able to identify the exact cause of your pain, or help decide what treatment you need (if any).

Will physiotherapy help my back pain?

Exercise programs given by a physiotherapist have been found to make back pain better compared to not getting any treatment. The exercise programme should include strength, flexibility and aerobic exercises for 8-weeks and may also include a home exercise program. Seeing as though most people’s back pain gets better quite quickly it is likely that these types of exercise programmes are of more help for people who have had their pain for a long time. There are lots of other treatments that physiotherapists may use but we do not yet know if these are helpful for back pain.

Will I need surgery on my back?

Surgery is needed in only a very small number of young people whose pain has a specific cause. Your doctor is the best person to assess and talk to about your back. This includes asking your doctor questions about your back and anything that you might be worried or scared about.

EUROSPINE is a society of spine specialists of various disciplines with a large knowledge of spine pathologies. All well-known and accepted treatment modalities for spine pathologies are represented by the members of the society. However, the Society cannot accept any responsibility for the use of the information provided; the user and their health care professionals must retain responsibility for their health care management.

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