How does back pain frequency develop among children and adolescents aged 6 to 17 years and what is the prevalence and frequency of back pain and related diagnoses among children whose pain develops in different ways?

This study aimed to investigate the trajectories of spinal pain frequency from 6 to 17 years of age and describe the prevalence and frequency of spinal pain and related diagnoses in children following different pain trajectories. First through fifth-grade students from 13 primary schools were followed for 5.5 years. Occurrences of spinal pain were reported weekly via text messages. Children reporting spinal pain were physically evaluated and classified using International Classification of Disease criteria. Trajectories of spinal pain frequency were modeled from age 6 to 17 years with latent class growth analysis. We included data from 1556 children (52.4% female, mean (SD) baseline age = 9.1 (1.9) years) and identified 10,554 weeks of spinal pain in 329,756 weeks of observation. Sixty-three percent of children reported one or more occurrences of spinal pain. We identified five trajectories of spinal pain frequency. Half the children (49.8%) were classified as members of a “no pain” trajectory. The remaining children followed “rare” (27.9%), “rare, increasing” (14.5%), “moderate, increasing” (6.5%), or “early-onset, decreasing” (1.3%) spinal pain trajectories. The most common diagnoses in all trajectory groups were non-specific (e.g., “back pain”). Tissue-specific diagnoses (e.g., muscle strain) were less common and pathologies (e.g., fracture) were rare.

From childhood through adolescence, spinal pain was common and followed heterogeneous courses comprising stable, increasing, and early-onset trajectories. These findings accord with recommendations from adult back pain guidelines that most children with spinal pain can be reassured that they do not have a serious disease and encouraged to stay active.

Hébert JJ, Beynon AM, Jones BL, Wang C, Shrier I, Hartvigsen J, Leboeuf-Yde C, Hestbæk L, Swain MS, Junge T, Franz C, Wedderkopp N. Spinal pain in childhood: prevalence, trajectories, and diagnoses in children 6 to 17 years of age. European Journal of Pediatrics 2022.