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The Use of Bone Scan to Investigate Back Pain in Children and Adolescents

Feldman, David S. M.D.; Hedden, Douglas M. M.D., F.R.C.S.C.*; Wright, James G. M.D., M.P.H., F.R.C.S.C.


Children with back pain frequently undergo detailed investigation because of the perception that a high percentage will have a treatable spinal condition. The purposes of this study was (i) to determine the percentage of children with disabling back pain presenting to our institution who had a diagnosis (i.e., to explain their back pain), (ii) to evaluate the clinical markers that should alert clinicians to underlying pathology, (iii) and to determine the prognosis of children with back pain and no specific diagnosis. This study was a retrospective analysis of consecutive children undergoing single-photon emission computed tomography for a primary complaint of back pain. Data collection included chart review, radiographic analysis, and clinical follow-up with the Roland and Morris scale for pain and disability. Two hundred and seventeen patients with an average age of 13 years (range, 2.7–17.7) were reviewed on average 4.4 years after presentation (range, 1.1–7.2 years). One hundred and seventy children (78.3%) had no specific diagnosis to explain their back pain, 15 children (6.9%) had spondylosis, 10 children (4.6%) had tumor, and the remaining 22 children (10.1%) had various diagnoses including infection, Scheuermann's kyphosis, herniated disc, kidney disease, facet arthritis, degenerative disc disease, congenital anomalies, and tethered cord. Factors associated with positive diagnoses were constant pain and male gender. Night pain, constant pain, and duration of symptoms <3 months were associated with the diagnosis of a tumor. Although the majority of children presenting with persistent back pain had no demonstrable cause, of 132 contactable patients 94 (71%) had persisting pain at the time of clinical follow-up. In conclusion, the majority of children with disabling back pain has no demonstrable cause and the majority will continue to have pain years after initial presentation.

Study conducted at The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

From The Hospital for Joint Diseases, New York, New York, U.S.A.; *Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, The Hospital for Sick Children and Department of Surgery, University of Toronto, Toronto; †Public Health Sciences, Clinical Epidemiology and Health Care Research Program, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. J. G. Wright, Division of Orthopaedic Surgery and Clinical Epidemiology Unit, The Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1X8 Canada. E-mail:

© 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.