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Back Strain: How to Care for Your Child

A strain is when a muscle or tendon (tissue that attaches muscle to bone) is stretched too far. A strain is sometimes called a "pulled muscle." Back strain can be due to an injury or too much stress on the back. It usually gets better within a few weeks.

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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 if 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 that 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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How does back strain happen? A strain happens when a muscle is stretched too far. Kids may strain the back when playing sports, running, lifting, falling, or carrying a backpack that's too heavy. A kid with back strain often has dull pain that started suddenly. Sometimes the pain is sharp, aching, or burning. It can happen anywhere in the back.

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

  • 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.

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

  • Get plenty of physical activity to keep muscles strong.

  • Stay at a healthy weight.

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