Evaluation of back pain in children and adolescents

Am Fam Physician. 2007 Dec 1;76(11):1669-76.


Back pain is fairly prevalent in healthy children and adolescents. When children or adolescents seek medical care for back pain, it is highly likely that underlying pathology will be identified. Common causes of back pain include nonspecific pain or muscle strain, herniated disk, spondylolysis, scoliosis, and Scheuermann's kyphosis. Less common causes include tumor, infection, and sickle cell crisis. If nonspecific back pain is suspected, treatment may include home-based exercise, physical therapy, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. If the history and physical examination suggest underlying pathology, radiography, complete blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and a C-reactive protein measurement should be performed. Follow-up magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, or bone scanning may be needed depending on the suspected cause. It is generally accepted that the following factors warrant immediate evaluation: patient age younger than four years, persistent symptoms, self-imposed activity limitations, systemic symptoms, increasing discomfort, persistent night-time pain, and neurologic symptoms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Algorithms
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / administration & dosage
  • Back Pain / diagnostic imaging
  • Back Pain / etiology*
  • Back Pain / therapy
  • Blood Cell Count
  • Blood Sedimentation
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Radiography
  • Scoliosis / complications


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • C-Reactive Protein