Kids are busier than ever, but not all back pain is the same, some pain should never be ignored.
Welcome to the 21st century! Not only are adults incredibly busy, but kids are participating in school sports, club sports, academics, and extra-curricular activities. With the amount of time spent in sports practices and nearly 8 hours a day spent in a desk at school, more kids than ever are suffering from lower back pain and tightness. The real question is; when should a parent start to be concerned about their child’s back tightness or pain? This is a great question, and to answer it we must consider kids as a whole and define when pain is normal and when pain is not.
Pain, especially chronic pain in children, is never normal. Now all of us that are parents also understand that many children struggle with understanding the difference between discomfort and pain. As adults, we recognize that running a marathon or even a 5k, surely won’t be void of any discomfort, and that pushing ourselves to attain a result we want, may not necessarily be “comfortable”. This leaves most parents guessing if their child is just whining or if there is a legitimate reason to be concerned. First, you must understand that children are still developing and knowing the difference between having a tummy ache and needing to go to the bathroom is often confused in young children. This is all a part of growing up and learning about how their body works. Children will also struggle with sensory input and not be able to distinguish the difference between pain and being ticklish. Overall however, these issues are minor, and most parents paying attention can, and do, accurately determine when their child is just complaining for no reason. But what if you don’t know? A good rule of thumb for kid’s pain is to watch the frequency and duration. Growing pains are all something we are aware of and have had a child experience, or at least know of one who has. But growing pains are very typically low in frequency and duration. Those pains are usually during the night and maybe in the morning, but dissipate quickly as kids get up and moving. They are also infrequent and hard to determine onset (when and how they begin). Likewise, falling off of your bike is certainly going to hurt, indicates there is a problem, but most kiddos will feel better within a few days or even a week after they have healed. Back pain can be a little more complicated. There is often not a readily explainable reason for the pain, and if it is chronic, it may be time to seek some professional attention. So when should a parent start to be concerned? I like to recommend parents become more involved if back pain has persisted more than a week. Of course, it is assumed that an acute injury hasn’t caused the pain. Sharp pains, pains that restrict or eliminate movement, numbness, tingling, or an aggressive injury should be considered an emergency and you should seek medical advice immediately. Our topic of conversation however, is the persisting chronic tightness or pain that hasn’t gone away within a week.
Again, chronic lower back pain in children is never normal. But this doesn’t mean there is a significant problem. It also doesn’t mean it should be ignored. It is very rare for children to suffer from slipped disks, fractured spinal vertebrae and nerve impingements, although they can and do happen. Most of the time, lower back pain is the result of really poor movement and body control. Sometimes it can be nutritionally related, or maybe it is just over training in their sport. These are all great topics, and ones I will address in other articles. For now, my focus is when a parent should consider having back pain and tightness addressed. To that end, here are some issues that may cause back pain or tightness and require professional attention;
On a final note, I ask parents not fall into the trap of thinking that sore or painful backs are a result of long practices and hard games. Pain in children is not a rite of passage, and a terrible indicator of effort level within a sporting environment. Pain is, and has always been a mechanism of the body to indicate there is a problem. I work with many athletes that play hard every day and do not suffer from pain. If anything, pain and tightness is lowering potential and standing in the way of performance. Don’t let your child live with pain, most of the time it can be addressed quickly and efficiently.
All the practitioners at Performance Pediatrics and Human Performance and Rehabilitation are willing to help in any way. If you have questions, or would like to speak with a professional please feel free to call, we do the best we can to make time for parents and aim to educate whenever we can. We can be reached at:
402 West Garden of the God’s Road
Colorado Springs, CO 80907