Back pain is uncommon in children and is usually associated with a serious underlying condition or an injury. Often the cause of back pain is nonspecific and is thought to be due to musculoskeletal strain, poor posture, heavy school bags that are not worn correctly or underlying mood problems.

Specific causes of back pain in children may include:

  • Spondylolysis: A stress fracture of the vertebrae due to injury or repetitive activity such as sports
  • Spondylolisthesis: A progression of spondylolysis, where one vertebra slips forward over another
  • Abnormal spine curvature: Kyphosis (excessive forward curvature), scoliosis (lateral curvature)
  • Infection: Infection of the disk space, usually seen in children 1-5 years
  • Tumor: Rarely occurs in or around the spinal column, resulting in progressive pain, especially at night

It is necessary to consult a physician if your child’s back pain affects their sleep, lasts for several days, is accompanied by fever, difficulty walking, weakness or numbness, bowel or bladder problems, or pain traveling down the leg. Your child’s doctor will conduct a thorough physical examination, order imaging tests (X-ray, CT or MRI scans) and bone scans to identify abnormalities, and blood tests to reveal infection or inflammation.

Treatment for nonspecific back pain in children usually involves pain medications, psychological counseling for mood problems, exercises, posture correction, weight loss if needed and advice on the proper method of carrying school bags. Your doctor may recommend bracing or surgical treatment for correction of an abnormal spine curvature. Antibiotics are prescribed for infections. Tumors may be treated with radiation or surgery.