Youngsters Spines Offer a Roadmap for Back PainEvery year, thousands of adults suffer one or more periods of low back pain. Days off from work or school equal millions of dollars lost. Researchers are working hard to find ways to prevent low back pain. Perhaps looking at younger people can give some clues. One group of Swedish scientists measured back strength and motion of the spine to see if these would predict low back pain later.
Before starting a research project, most scientists read all the articles already published on the subject. At the time of this Swedish project, there were only a few studies on low back pain in teenagers. Results weren't consistent from one study to the next. There was agreement that increasing age, long periods of sitting, and high levels of physical activity increased the risk for low back pain. Other risk factors were stress and low back pain in the family. Girls seemed to have more low back pain than boys, as do women compared to men.
In the Swedish study, 88 teenagers (14 to 16 years old) were interviewed and measured. Back measurements included bending back and forth, and holding a position for four minutes (strength). Various other measures were also taken to see if they had any connection to low back pain. These included height, weight, parental back pain, mood, fitness level, and time spent on a computer or watching television.
For these teenagers, low back pain did not appear to be related to height, weight, or back pain in parents. Girls reported back pain more often than boys. This was not related to menstrual pain. Time spent on a computer or watching television was associated with low back pain when the study began but not at the follow-up three years later.
Low back pain for the whole group was present when back strength was low. For girls, a combination of decreased back strength and increased spinal motion was reported. Among boys, low back pain and low strength went together.
Even though this was a small study, the information is useful. If doctors can predict which teenagers are more likely to have back problems later, they may be able to prevent back pain. Starting a back-pain prevention program for younger ages may be a good solution. Improving back strength while teaching students to avoid certain positions is another practical suggestion. Some schools are adjusting furniture for taller students. The results of these prevention efforts have yet to be reported.
Astrid SjÃ¶lie, MSc, and Anne Ljunggren, PhD. The Significance of High Lumbar Mobility and Low Lumbar Strength For Current and Future Low Back Pain In Adolescents. In Spine. December 1, 2001. Vol. 26. No. 23. Pp. 2629-2636.
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