Back Basics Avoiding Teen Back Aches

Treatment for chronic back pain, whether from slouching or sports activity, may include medication, activity modification and exercise, including prescribed physical therapy, bracing or even surgery in certain cases.

“Oh, my aching back” isn’t something parents expect to hear from their teenagers, but it is a common complaint among adolescents who carry heavy backpacks, play recreational and organized sports and continue to ignore their mothers’ admonitions to stand up straight.

“Many children with chronic back pain are slouchers,” says physical therapist Kim Kranz, who treats lots of teens with back pain through CHKD’s sports medicine program. “When the spine is held in good posture, it is well-balanced and requires very little muscle power to keep it erect. When posture is poor, ligaments in the back get overstretched, and the spine becomes unbalanced. The muscles that support the spine have to work extra hard to keep the spine erect and the head up, which can lead to pain.”

Treatment for chronic back pain, whether from slouching or sports activity, may include medication, activity modification and exercise, including prescribed physical therapy, bracing or even surgery in certain cases.

“Athletes may need sports physical therapy for certain conditions. Physical therapists can prescribe exercises that improve the strength of muscles that support the spine. To help children with poor posture, we use muscle strengthening and stretching exercises. We might also use external supports or cushions,” Kranz said. “In cases where there is a traumatic injury to the spine, we help patients maintain strength and stability in the spine while the injury itself heals, and then we work to restore motion.”

Seek immediate medical attention if your child:

  • has severe back pain that persists for more than two hours can’t walk
  • has back pain plus tingling or weakness in the legs
  • has back pain plus changes in bowel or bladder function
The following exercises can help your child maintain a healthy, flexible spine. Aim for two sets of 10 repetitions once a day.

Knee side-to-side
  • Lie on back with knees bent, feet flat on floor.
  • Keeping knees together, move knees to the left as far as comfortable.
  • Next, move knees to the right as far as comfortable.
  • Return to start position.
  • Keep shoulders flat against the floor.
Alternate arm/leg lifts
  • Lie face down, with towel roll under forehead, arms outstretched over head.
  • Raise left arm and right leg off floor.
  • Lower and repeat with right arm/left leg.
  • Return to start and repeat the series.
Pelvic Tilt
  • Lie on back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
  • Tighten abdominal muscles and press low back down into floor.
  • Relax and repeat.