Back Pain in Adolescence May Not Be So Innocent

Researchers sought to determine if low back pain and radiologic changes visible in thoracic and lumbar spine during adolescence could be a factor of low back pain in adulthood.  The subjects of the study were 640 school children.  The school doctor examined and performed x-rays of the thoracic and lumbar spine of the children at age 14.  Any history of low back pain, and/or familial occurrence of back issues, was noted by the school doctor.  Then 25 years later, the records were reviewed and a questionnaire was administered to the subjects.  Their findings were telling.  Only 11% had reported low back pain as adolescents, but 84% of that small group reported they had continued to experience low back pain as an adult.

Compared to their peers, those with the history of low back pain in adolescence:

  • Were more likely to have back pain as adults
  • Had increased morbidity
  • Had decreased working capacity

Additional analysis showed that familial history was also associated with low back pain later in life.  They noted that among those with both personal history as a youth and familial history of back pain, an overwhelming majority, 88%, were experiencing low back pain as adults. 

This study and others like it suggest that low back pain during the pivotal growth years may, in fact, be precursors to future problems.  Rather than assuming they’ll “grow out of it”, more prevention and intervention is called for.  A lack of strengthening activities may leave core muscles too weak to adequately support the body as it should.  Without sufficient exercise, the joints may develop limited range of motion. 

Small injuries or misalignments that cause discomfort, if untreated, may be further aggravated as the child grows and develops.  Chiropractors are experts in the health of the musculoskeletal system.  They can help address these concerns as children grow and help correct any issues as they occur.  If your child complains of back pain, schedule a visit with your chiropractor.  Even if they have no symptoms, it’s a good idea to get a periodic screening check-up.  The chiropractor can examine and address any problems while they are small to prevent them from worsening.  Who knows, you may save them from a lifetime of pain. 


SOURCE: “Are radiologic changes in the thoracic and lumbar spine of adolescents risk factors for low back pain in adults? A 25-year prospective cohort study of 640 school children”.  By Harreby M, Neergaard K, Hesselsøe G, and Kjer J.  Published in Spine 1995 Nov 1;20(21):2298-302.