Study design: A 5-year longitudinal interview and questionnaire-based survey of back pain in adolescents.
Objectives: To determine the natural history of back pain during adolescence in boys and girls and to explore the influence of sports participation and lumbar flexibility.
Summary of background data: Previous data on low back pain and flexibility in adolescents have come largely from cross-sectional studies with differing definitions and age groups. A longitudinal study would offer a more detailed description of aspects of the natural history of back pain.
Methods: A cohort of 216 11-year-old children was given a structured questionnaire about back pain. Follow-up evaluation was annual for 4 more years. Lumbar sagittal mobility was measured in first and last years. Life-table analysis was the chosen statistical method.
Results: Annual incidence rose from 11.8% at age 12+ to 21.5% at 15+ years. Lifetime prevalence rose from 11.6% at age 11+ to 50.4% at age 15+ years. Experience of back pain was frequently forgotten. Recurrent pain was common, usually manifesting as such rather than as progression from a single episode; few children required treatment. Back pain was more common in boys than girls, especially by age 15 years. There was a positive link between sports and back pain only for boys. Severity and flexibility were not related to sex, treatment, or sport.
Conclusions: Back pain in adolescents is common; it increases with age and is recurrent, but in general does not deteriorate with time. Much of the symptomatology may be considered a normal life experience, probably unrelated to adult disabling trouble.