Children's Hospital Colorado

Back Pain

What is back pain?

Back pain is pain anywhere in the back from the neck to the low back. Most back pain in children is related to activity and overuse of the muscles that are in the back, such as in a swimming injury. Back pain can also occur acutely (short-term) during sporting events if a child sustains an injury during practice or a game. Learn more about sports and common injuries.

Not all low back pain is actually due to a problem in the back. There are occasions when back pain is caused by a problem with the hip joint or muscles. Back pain can also be caused by a fracture, arthritis, disc problems or spinal misalignment.

Back pain is very common in growing children and adolescents.

What are the symptoms of back pain?

Symptoms of back pain can be different for each child. Common symptoms include:

  • Increasing pain with bending or movement, including movement from sports
  • Relief of pain with rest
  • Relief of pain with anti-inflammatory medication
  • Pain that travels down the buttocks and leg or down the arms and fingers
  • Numbness or tingling in the legs, feet, hand or fingers

If your child has persistent back pain, changes in bowel or bladder habits, pain that wakes him up at night, fever, or weakness, numbness or tingling, please contact your doctor.

How is back pain diagnosed?

Usually, back pain is diagnosed by your child’s primary care physician. If that doctor has concerns about your child’s pain, he or she may refer your child to the Orthopedics Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Back pain is often simply diagnosed by the symptoms a child is having and a complete physical exam. Tests of your child’s movement, strength and a neuromuscular exam will help the doctor determine the cause of the pain.

Learn more about common tests at the Orthopedics Institute.

How is back pain treated?

The majority of back injuries are related to the body’s muscles and treated conservatively. Your child’s doctor at the Spine Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado may begin with a series of x-rays to check for bone abnormality that could be causing pain.

If the bones look normal and there are no other concerning findings, your child will start a “conservative” treatment that will last between 4 and 8 weeks. This treatment typically includes rest, using ice/heat, anti-inflammatory medications and, in many cases, physical therapy. A major focus of treatment is a core fitness program.

If your child has no relief from pain with conservative therapy, or his or her symptoms are getting worse, the pain may be caused by another underlying problem. In these cases, your child’s orthopedic doctor may do some common tests like an MRI, CT scan and/or blood tests. These tests will help identify other causes of pain such as a pinched nerve, bulging disc, infection or a growth on the spine. Based on the findings of further testing, a treatment plan can then be determined.

Fortunately, it is very uncommon for a child to need surgery for back pain. Your doctor will determine if that is necessary.

Why choose our Spine Program for your child’s back pain?

The Spine Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado evaluates and treats infants, children, adolescents and young adults with all types of spinal diseases, deformities and injuries, ranging from back pain to complex neuromuscular disease and trauma. Our spine team is among the most knowledgeable pediatric spine care teams in the country. For the most basic to the most complex spinal conditions, our goal is to always provide the safest and most effective treatments.

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