Study design: A nationwide, cohort-based cross-sectional questionnaire survey as a part of a population study.
Objectives: To evaluate the prevalence of low back pain among Finnish children and adolescents.
Summary of background data: Low back pain is common already in adolescence, but the results concerning sex differences and peak age of the prevalence have been partly controversial. Also, previous studies have been limited to smaller geographic areas.
Methods: The subjects were 594 girls and 577 boys, a total of 1171 children and adolescents. They were pupils of 45 different public schools. Various areas of Finland were included in the sampling process to represent different parts of the country and different living conditions. The subjects completed a validated questionnaire by themselves or with the help of a parent or guardian. The questionnaire was checked by a supervisor when entering the field study. The questionnaire included items that investigated the subjects' past and current low back pain. Low back pain was classified on the basis of timing, duration, and location. Subjects reporting pain in the low back area that interfered with school work or leisure activities during the previous 12 months were defined as having low back pain.
Results: The prevalence of back pain was low (1%) among the 7-year-old and 10-year-old (6%) schoolchildren, but increased with age, being 18% both among 14- and 16-year-old adolescents. No gender difference was found. Recurrent or chronic pain was reported by 26% of the boys and 33% of the girls who reported low back pain, and the proportion of recurrent and chronic pains of all low back pain incidents increased with age.
Conclusions: Low back pain is a relatively common complaint at adolescence. In addition, a significant part of the pains are recurrent or chronic already with 14-year-old adolescents.