Study design: Systematic literature review.
Objective: To explore the available research literature, and provide an up-to-date synthesis of the epidemiology of idiopathic adolescent spinal pain (IASP).
Summary of background data: IASP and its potential causes have been a concern to researchers for over 2 decades. Because it has been suggested that IASP is related to the incidence of adult spinal pain, it appears important to synthesize what is currently known about IASP.
Method: A systematic meta-synthesis approach was used to identify secondary review articles and primary epidemiological studies regarding any type of IASP (neck, upper back, or low back).
Results: A total of 56 primary epidemiological (cross-sectional or longitudinal) studies were identified. Spinal or back pain was the most commonly reported measure, with the lifetime prevalence figures ranging from 4.7% to 74.4%. The lifetime prevalence of low back pain had a similar range, 7% to 72%. The prevalence of pain in other areas of the spine (i.e., thoracic spine and neck) was variably reported, as were incidence rates for all areas of the adolescent spine. IASP is thus a significant problem, and the prevalence figures approach those of adults. There is some evidence that IASP is a risk factor for spinal pain in adulthood. However, there was considerable variation in how back pain was defined, the areas of the spine that were reported on, the manner in which data were collected and reported, thus preventing any significant comparisons of prevalence or incidence rates across studies.
Conclusion: Although there is wide discrepancy in the manner in which adolescent spinal pain is reported, it is evident that lifetime prevalence rates increase steadily with age and approximate adult levels by around the age of 18 years. There is an opportunity for further longitudinal research, with standardized methodology, to be undertaken that builds on the findings from this large group of studies.