One-Third of U.S. Kids Have Back Pain, Study Says

One-Third of U.S. Kids Have Back Pain, Study Says

TUESDAY, March 12, 2019 (HealthDay News) — As American kids pack on the pounds, the number of those with back pain is on the rise.

One in three between the ages of 10 and 18 said they had backaches in the past year, according to a survey of about 3,700 youngsters. The incidence rose along with kids’ age and weight and was higher among those who play competitive sports.

Though many people probably associate back pain with older people, the orthopedic surgeon who led the study was not surprised by his findings.

“We see a lot of kids who have pain from overuse injuries or joint pain from playing sports,” said Dr. Peter Fabricant, who treats pediatric patients at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “Of these kids who had back pain, very few actually required any sort of medical intervention. Most didn’t need treatment at all.”

About 80 percent of adults suffer from lower back pain at some time, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

But this is the first time the extent of back pain among children has been estimated on nationwide scale, the authors said. The youngsters surveyed were equally split by age and gender.

On average, those who reported back pain weighed more and had higher body mass indexes, or BMIs. (BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.)

Back pain was more common among girls than boys (38 percent to 29 percent). And the percentage reporting back pain rose about 4 percent with each year of increasing age, according to the authors. Most often, pain affected the lower back.

Nearly half said they hurt in the evenings and more than 15 percent said back pain interrupted their sleep. Only 41 percent sought treatment, and most who did had physical therapy.

Participation in competitive sports was strongly linked to back pain, with junior varsity and varsity athletes experiencing it more often than younger or recreational players. Most survey participants were active, with basketball the most commonly played sport, followed by dance, baseball, football and soccer.

Another contributor to kids’ back pain is the backpacks they use to tote their stuff, researchers said. Those who used one strap to carry their packs reported significantly more back pain than did those who used both straps.

Those who used rolling backpacks reported back pain the most often. Fabricant said it wasn’t clear whether pain prompted their use of the rolling packs or whether the rolling packs contributed to their pain.

While long-term pain prospects are unclear, Fabricant said “it would certainly stand to reason” that kids who experience backaches would be more likely to do so as adults.

Dr. Henock Wolde-Semait is a pediatric orthopedist at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., who reviewed the findings. He said the results mirror what he sees in his own practice.

“Lots of kids have back pain for various reasons. It seems like it’s on the rise,” he said.

“The majority of them do well [without surgical treatment], which is why in the past this may have been overlooked or taken for granted,” Wolde-Semait added.

Fabricant suggested parents urge their kids to avoid any sport or activity related to their back pain. Physical therapy may help by stretching and strengthening key muscles, he said, and it’s wise to avoid carrying backpacks on only one shoulder.

Wolde-Semait said excessive screen time may also play a role in kids’ back pain. He said youngsters should seek “moderation in every aspect.”

The study is to be presented March 12 at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ annual meeting, in Las Vegas. Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

Harvard Health offers tips for a pain-free back.

SOURCES: Peter Fabricant, M.D., M.P.H., pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, N.Y.; Henock Wolde-Semait, M.D., pediatric orthopedist, NYU Winthrop Hospital, Mineola, N.Y.; presentation, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons annual meeting, Las Vegas, March 12, 2019

Copyright ©2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.
Health Tip: Buy the Right Backpack for Your Child

Health Tip: Buy the Right Backpack for Your Child

Your child’s backpack may be incredibly handy and reflect a personal sense of style.

It should also be functional and help protect your child’s back, the Nemours Foundation says.

If a backpack is poorly worn or too heavy, it can strain muscles and joints and cause back pain.

Doctors recommend that kids keep backpacks filled to no more than 15 percent of their body weight, the foundation says. Both straps should be used to help distribute weight evenly.

The foundation suggests looking for these features in a child’s backpack:

  • Lightweight: Get a pack that doesn’t add a lot of weight to your child’s load.
  • Wide, padded straps: Straps that are too narrow can dig into shoulders.
  • Padded back: Provides extra comfort while protecting kids from being poked by sharp objects inside the pack.
  • Waist belt: Helps distribute weight evenly across the body.
  • Multiple compartments: These help distribute weight throughout the pack.
Take the Back Pain Out of Backpacks

Take the Back Pain Out of Backpacks

Backpacks can mean backaches for schoolchildren, but an orthopedic surgeon has advice for parents and kids about how to keep soreness at bay.

“Parents should inspect their child’s backpack from time to time,” said Dr. Joshua Hyman of New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in New York City.

Kids “often carry much more than they should, with extra shoes, toys, electronic devices and other unnecessary items,” he explained in a hospital news release.

Hyman suggests that before sending kids off to school, parents should follow these backpack safety tips:

  • Be a weight-watcher. According to Hyman, backpacks shouldn’t weigh more than 15 percent of a kid’s body weight. That’s the equivalent of 7 pounds for a 50-pound child.
  • Lighten the load. If you feel that your child is weighed down by too many textbooks, talk to the teacher about whether any can be left at school. If not, a backpack on wheels may be an option.
  • Two straps are better than one. Encourage your child to wear the straps over both shoulders — not over one shoulder — so the weight of the bag is distributed evenly.
  • Size matters. Get a correctly sized backpack that’s not wider or longer than your child’s torso, and make sure it doesn’t hang more than 4 inches below your kid’s waist. A low-hanging backpack could force your child to lean forward while walking.
  • The more padding the better. Look for a backpack with straps that are wide and padded to prevent them from digging into the child’s shoulders. Also, look for one with a padded back. This can reduce the risk that your child will be hurt by sharp objects inside the backpack.
  • Watch for signs of trouble. Be on the lookout for pain, posture changes, tingling or red marks due to backpack use. If your child’s pain is persistent, talk to your pediatrician.
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