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When My Child Has Back Pain, Should I Call Our Doctor?

back safety tips for back to schoolBack pain is not uncommon among children but most often is not a serious issue until we reach middle age. However, children and teenagers certainly do have back problems from time to time that can turn out to be serious.

The most common causes of back pain among the young are obesity, intense sports activities, and carrying a heavy backpack. And in most cases the pain is from muscle strains, which get better with rest and after using cold or heat treatments.

How do I know when to get medical help for my child’s back pain?

As a rule, you should see a doctor if your child’s back pain continues for more than a few days or gets more painful. You should also reach out to your provider if, in addition to the pain, your child is also experiencing:

  • Fever or weight loss
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Pain that radiates down one or both legs
  • Trouble walking
  • Bowel or bladder problems
  • Pain that keeps your child from sleeping

Please do keep in mind that a more serious cause of your child’s back pain needs to be identified as early as possible so that it can be most effectively treated. 

How will my child be examined by our pediatrician or family doctor?

You can expect that your provider will want first to learn how and when the pain began and if it started with an injury or activity. This medical expert ill also want to learn if there are other symptoms like those mentioned above

After a careful physical exam of your child, imaging studies or tests, including X-rays, CT scans or MRIs may be ordered. These are useful for showing bone alignment, deformities, displacements, fractures, and some tumors, infections, or other bone disorders.

In some cases, lab tests may be recommended should there be a concern about infection or inflammation.

Again, moderate back pain in children may occur when there has been a fall or collision, and it will usually go away within a few days with self-care and/or over-the-counter medications. Persistent, worsening and/or more severe back pain could be showing that there is a more serious medical condition in play. In this case, you should seek out medical help without delay.

Spinal Meningitis

One of the most serious infections of the spine is meningitis. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other germs. Meningitis which is caused by bacteria, is a medical emergency.

If your child has back pain and any of these symptoms of meningitis, go to the emergency room right away:

  • High fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Severe headache
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion and/or behavior changes

If your child’s spinal alignment is abnormal, it can cause back pain. It may change how your child’s back looks as well. Sometimes, the deformities are easy to see but don’t cause pain.

The two most common spinal deformities in children are:

  • Scoliosis is a deformity that causes an S-shaped curve in the spine. You can see the deformity when you look at your child’s back.
  • Scheuermann’s kyphosis is a condition that causes a sharp bend in the spine. You can see the shape when you look at your child from the side.

A provider can measure the curve of your child’s spine by taking X-ray or MRI images.

If your child has back pain, it’s natural to be concerned. As their caregiver, you don’t want to see them be uncomfortable or have to miss out on their favorite activities.

That said, most causes of back pain in kids and teens will get better if they take it easy and rest.

However, if your child’s back pain isn’t getting better, is getting worse, or they have other symptoms that are troubling, it’s time to call their provider.


*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery