The natural history of low back pain in adolescents

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1996 Oct 15;21(20):2323-8. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199610150-00004.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent*
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Life Tables
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology*
  • Low Back Pain / etiology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiopathology
  • Lumbosacral Region / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Pliability
  • Prevalence
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sports
  • Surveys and Questionnaires