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The Natural History of Low Back Pain in Adolescents

Burton, Kim A. PhD, DO, MErgS; Clarke, Robert D. DO; McClune, Timothy D. DO; Tillotson, Malcolm K. BSc, CStat

Assessment and Survey

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.

From the Spinal Research Unit, University of Huddersfield, Queensgate, Huddersfield, United Kingdom.

Acknowledgment date: May 15, 1995.

First revision date: December 28, 1995.

Acceptance date: February 22, 1996.

Device status category: 1.

Address reprint requests to: A. K. Burton, PhD, DO, MErgS; 30 Queen Street; Huddersfield; HD1 2SP United Kingdom

© Lippincott-Raven Publishers.