Doctors who treat low back injuries in teens in the same way they would treat adults may make the youths’ problems worse, a study warns.
Teen and adult back problems are substantially different, said the report in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
The study compared 100 adolescents averaging almost 16 years of age with 100 adults averaging almost 32.
Both groups were treated at two Boston facilities. The teens were ages 12-18; the adults, 21-77.
The researchers caution that their findings apply most directly to teen athletes. Back pain seems to be most common in gymnasts, who bend their backs a lot, said Dr. Lyle J. Micheli of Boston’s Children’s Hospital.
And football and wrestling, parents should be aware, produce their share of back pain.
It is, however, relatively uncommon among young people in general, Micheli said. It is very common among adults; more than 80 percent have reported it, the study said.
The stress fracture called spondylolysis affects 5 percent of young people over the age of 6, said Dr. Richard A. Reynolds of Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.
He said the study is a warning for doctors and coaches who deal with young athletes.
“Back pain in children is a serious problem, and should not be ignored,” he said.
Children generally should be kept out of physical education until the problem is resolved, Reynolds said. In six weeks to three months, symptoms usually subside and the athlete is back to normal.
For adults, watchful waiting - the medical term for doing nothing while seeing if the body heals itself - can be the best medicine for typical low back pain. If a doctor gives the teens watchful waiting, it’s possible the stress fracture will get worse and the pain will persist, Micheli said.