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Back Pain: How to Care for Your Child

Back pain can happen for many different reasons. It can come on slowly or suddenly. It may be a dull ache or a sharp, shooting pain. Back pain in kids usually gets better within a few weeks. Follow these instructions to care for your child.

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  • Your child should continue with regular activities. Bed rest is not recommended. They can go to school, drive, and do low-impact activities such as walking, biking, or swimming. If the activity makes the pain worse or they feel like they can't continue it, they can take a break and try it later or the next day.

  • To ease strain on the back, your child should take a break from heavy lifting.

  • Follow your health care provider's recommendations for:

    • how long to take a break from sports, high-impact activities, and anything that involves a lot of twisting or bending

    • any stretching or strengthening exercises 

    • seeing a physical therapist

For pain, your child can:

  • Take ibuprofen (such as Advil®, Motrin®, or a store brand), if recommended by your health care provider. Follow the directions on the label for how much they should take and how often.

  • Put a cold pack on the back for 15–20 minutes every 3–4 hours for the first few days after the injury. Place a towel or cloth between the cold pack and the skin.

  • Apply a heating pad or heat pack to the back. 

  • Massage the area.

  • Soak in a warm tub once or twice a day.

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Your child:

  • has pain that is severe or gets worse

  • still has pain after about 2 weeks

  • has back pain that wakes them from sleep

  • has pee or poop accidents

  • can't do everyday activities like driving, walking, and writing because of the back pain

  • has leg pain, weakness, tingling, or numbness

  • has a change in the way they walk

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What causes back pain? Many things can cause back pain, such as: 

  • overuse

  • muscle strain from lifting heavy objects (including backpacks)

  • poor posture

  • stress

  • sports or activities that involve a lot of twisting or bending

  • other medical conditions

What can help prevent back pain? It may help for your child to:

  • Work with a sports trainer to make sure they don't overtrain and that they warm up and cool down correctly.

  • Improve their posture. They should keep their shoulders back, their back straight, and their chin up when sitting and standing, and keep their weight even over both hips and feet when standing.

  • Avoid carrying very heavy objects. If they use a backpack, try to keep it light. They should use both shoulder straps when wearing the backpack.

  • Get plenty of physical activity to keep muscles strong.

  • Stay at a healthy weight.

  • Talk to a counselor if stress might be a cause of the back pain.

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