Back pain is a common health problem in adults with around 60-80% of the young population experiencing low back pain at some point in their lifetime. However, it is not just a problem in adults. In recent times, there have been numerous cases of back and neck pain reported in school children and adolescents. Dr. Nidhi Sanghvi Shah, National Clinical Expert at QI Spine Clinic, Mumbai, says, “When a child complains of a back pain or neck pain, it is a cause of concern. Long hours of sitting in school, incorrect posture while using gadgets, lack of physical activity are some of the key lifestyle reasons why children are getting affected at an early age.”
So to help parents know back pain in children at an early stage, Dr. Nidhi has listed some common signs parents should watch out along with tips that can help.
10 Common Signs And Symptoms Of Back Pain In Children
Back pain in children has multiple causes including physical, genetic, behavioral, and psychosocial factors. So to know if your kid is suffering from back or is at risk of back pain and neck pain, here are symptoms you need to look for.
1. Constant slouching
It goes without saying that kids these days spend a lot of time indoors either watching TV, playing video games or using a computer, which is one of the common causes of back pain in children. Sitting in a position with a forward bend on a study desk or when using a laptop can impact the alignment of the child’s spine. This can cause a hunchback, clinically known as kyphosis, eventually leading to back pain.
Tip: If your child is using a study desk, ensure that the desk is placed at a right angle with the child sitting straight and the back not slouching. When using a laptop for hours, ensure your child uses a laptop stand and sits on a high table. It is best to limit the use of phone and laptop as it also cuts down on the amount of time spent sitting in a single position. Additionally, encourage your kid to take up outdoor activities to help him/her stay physically active and fit.
2. Swelling and tenderness in the back
If your child complains of swelling, or tenderness in the spine which is accompanied with other symptoms such as fever, unexplained weight loss, malaise, and fatigue, it is a sign to worry. This could be due to constant pressure on the back, which can lead to inflammation in the area, causing swelling and tenderness in the region.
Tip: In such as case, parents should avoid the use of painkillers to suppress the pain, especially without consulting a doctor. Instead, it is wise to consult an orthopedic or a spine specialist to know the cause of it and get it treated, before trying out any kind of treatment at home.
3. Change in walking posture
If your child has a tilted walking posture or suffers from an asymmetrical waist (uneven waist where one side is slightly curvier than the other), it indicated a serious back problem. This could be due to neuromuscular, postural or birth defects which can cause slight deformity or tilt during early years and tend to become worse over time as the child grows. It is one of the common symptoms of a condition known as scoliosis.
Tip: The best way to prevent the progression of the condition is to go for a consultation with a spine specialist at the earliest. It can not only ensure timely diagnosis but also help with the proper treatment. Moreover, going in for an active spine rehabilitation programme can also help reduce the progression of the curve or tilt.
4. Pain that radiates to the limbs
If your child is suffering from arm pain or leg pain, it could indicate a back or neck pain. This is because, in some cases, the pain may start in the back but radiated to the arms, legs or even knees. This is usually a warning sign of a serious medical problem which should be investigated immediately.
Tip: If your child complains of an arm, hip or leg pain, try to probe for symptoms of back pain as well. Consult a spine specialist when you see any sign of radiating pain to know the exact cause and get it treated.
5. Shoulder pain
Back pain is one of the tell-a-tale symptoms of back and neck problems. However, in some cases, pain in between the shoulder blades can also indicate an underlying problem in the back. If your child complains of shoulder pain, it should not be ignored. It could be mostly due to sports injuries, an inflammatory condition or postural stresses on the spine.
Tip: It is wise to consult a doctor as physical examination followed by lab tests can help the expert to identify injuries or inflammation, if any, in the early stages. Also, regular check-ups with a spine specialist can help identify back or spine problems.
6. Fever and weakness
Fever and feeling weak are one of the common symptoms of most of the health problems and hence, it is difficult to know the exact cause based on these symptoms. However, if back pain is accompanied by fever, weakness or unexplained weight loss it may be a sign of an infection or a tumor in the back.
Tip: Do not ignore these symptoms in your child as these may be signs of a non-mechanical issue and might need a clinical intervention. Consult your doctor immediately to know the root cause of the condition rather than allowing it to health on its own or try home remedies to fight fever, weakness and back pain.
7. Frequent headaches
The constant use of a smartphone or gadgets such as video games can put pressure on the back and the neck. Moreover, sitting in a wrong sitting posture while studying can also increase the pressure on the neck, which can lead to tension headaches. Frequent headaches may be a sign of a neck problem and not always a sign of a vision problem. So if your child uses smartphones or has the wrong posture and experiences a headache frequently, it is a sign to visit a spine specialist too.
Tip: The best way to deal with a headache caused by a neck problem is to perform neck stretches and chin tucks. Simply move your neck to the sides and up and down every 30 minutes to help reduce such tension headaches. You can also opt for neck supports such as cushions at your child’s study desk.
8. Tingling sensation
In some cases, constant pressure on the neck and back can impact the nerves. This can lead to tingling sensation or feeling of pins and needles in the legs. It can even cause numbness in the hands and legs due to an excess pressure on the child’s nerves.
Tip: In such as a case, a multidisciplinary approach is needed to treat the condition. You may have to consult an orthopedic and a neurologist to help your child deal with the symptoms.
9. Difficulty in sleeping
It is a known fact that the poor quality of sleep, irregular sleep timings, and inadequate sleeping is a risk factor for developing back pain in school children. But did you know that back problems can also impair your sleep? Discomfort or pain in the back or spine can keep your child up at night. Do fix an appointment with a specialist as suppressing the pain with painkillers and use of sleep medication will not only delay the treatment but also make the condition worse.
Tip: Keep a pillow or knee spacer under your child’s knees to ease the discomfort or pain. If your child is a side sleeper, place the pillow or knee spacer between their knees.
10. Loss of bladder control
If your child suffers from a weak bladder which is accompanied by back pain, then it is a red flag. These symptoms could be due to compression of the nerves of the spinal cord which in turn affects the urinary bladder.
Tip: Talk to your doctor as it is an emergency and requires urgent medical attention.
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