Teenage risk factors for back pain 

Q: My 15 year old son complains of back aches. He’s grown a lot in the past year so my husband thinks our son’s back aches are growing pains, but I think the pains are from lack of exercise. What is your opinion?

A: Adolescent back pain is becoming more common in recent years. Sometimes the discomfort associated with growth spurts may be unavoidable. However, most cases of teenage back pain are preventable with lifestyle changes.

A study investigating the risk factors for adolescents to develop long-term back pain was recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (2001). Out of 502 adolescents who were studied over a one-year period, 17% reported having low back pain. This study explored various risk factors including major growth spurts (growing more than two inches in six months), poor flexibility, weak abdominal strength, exercise, work, mental health and smoking.

The study revealed that a major growth spurt was the most obvious risk factor, actually tripling the odds of developing pain. But perhaps, not surprisingly, the other main contributors to the development of back pain - smoking, inadequate exercise and poor leg muscle flexibility - are all preventable. Interestingly, smoking more than doubled a teen’s risk of developing chronic back pain.

Unfortunately, we can’t always force teenagers to abandon unhealthy habits, but we can educate them on the consequences and risks of their actions. Telling teens what to avoid such as smoking, and pressuring them to get some exercise isn’t enough. It is also our responsibility to teach them essentials of proper exercise technique and the value of regular exercise.