Spine Pain in Teenagers: Understanding the Causes

If you’ve been experiencing back pain or any discomfort in the spine area, you’re certainly not alone. There are many reasons teens may experience spine pain—some of them temporary, some more serious.

Whether from a new exercise regime or a result of growing up, there are many causes of spinal trouble in teens. It’s important to understand what these causes are so that you can accurately diagnose and treat any pain or discomfort that might be present. In this article, we’ll go over some common causes of spine trouble in teens and what you can do to find relief.

Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a possible diagnosis if you’re a teen experiencing spine pain. Scoliosis can cause an abnormal curvature of the spine and is typically first noticed when someone has an uneven shoulder blade or hip line or if their head is no longer centered over their hips.

Various factors, such as muscle imbalance, pelvic tilt, and genetics, can cause it. While some cases of scoliosis may not cause much pain, it can cause discomfort and even chronic pain in more severe cases.

Other symptoms sometimes associated with scoliosis include back pain, neck pain, stiffness, fatigue, and decreased physical activity.

Osteochondritis Dissecans

Do you know what osteochondritis dissecans is? Most likely not, but it is one of the primary causes of spinal pain in teens. Osteochondritis dissecans is a condition that can affect the cartilage and bone at a joint and typically happens in the knee, elbow, or shoulder. In this case, it affects the intervertebral disks.

The main cause of this disorder is unknown, but it’s believed to be due to a lack of blood flow to the area. This can create a weak spot that gradually breaks away from the end plates, resulting in limited mobility or intense pain. It’s more common in boys and tends to begin after puberty when hormonal changes may contribute to further weakening of affected areas in the spine.

Spinal Infections

When it comes to spinal pain in teens, you may not realize it, but infections are a possible cause that should be looked at. Back pain is a common symptom of certain infections, and they can affect the spine in many ways.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infectious bacterium that’s spread by inhaling the germs of others with active TB. It can cause back pain, fever, night sweats, and weight loss – symptoms that often develop over several weeks or months. Tuberculosis is thankfully rare in the United States.

Staphylococcal Infections

Staphylococcal bacteria can lead to an infection known as osteomyelitis, which affects your bone and surrounding tissue. Symptoms include tenderness around the spine area and swelling like that found with other severe infections.

Viral Infections

There are lots of different viruses which can lead to spinal pain. It may start in your lower back and radiate up your body or present as point tenderness at the site of infection in either your lower or upper back. When a virus causes it, you won’t see any swelling, but there could be some skin discoloration around the affected area where the virus has been active.

even teens can experience back pain

Stress Fractures

Sometimes the cause of spine pain in teens could be stress fractures. This can happen when a person does a lot of physical activities and places too much strain on the bones and muscles.

Stress fractures can occur anywhere along the spine, but they are most common in the lower back due to the amount of movement in this area.

The good news is that stress fractures are treatable. The first line of treatment is usually rest to allow the fracture to heal, followed by physical therapy and exercises to strengthen nearby muscles and help with long-term prevention. Surgery may sometimes be necessary if the fracture is severe or fails to heal independently.

Backpack Usage

Carrying around a heavy backpack is one of the most common causes of spine pain in teenagers. That’s because carrying too much weight—whether in the form of textbooks or a laptop—can throw off your body’s balance.

This puts extra stress and strain on your spine, resulting in poor posture, muscle tension, and painful joints. And if this strain continues long, teens can have chronic back pain.

So it might be time to take inventory of what you put into your backpack daily. Try keeping items like textbooks and laptops at a minimum, and if you need certain items for class, then look for ways to make them lighter (like switching to digital textbooks). Also, be sure to wear the straps correctly and that the bag is even on both sides.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spine and the joints around it and mostly appears in teens aged 15-25.

Ankylosing spondylitis can cause inflammation of the vertebrae, leading to pain and stiffness in the back and neck. In severe cases, it can cause damage to the joint structures, deformity, and disability.

So what causes this condition? Well, there is thought to be a genetic component – if anyone in your family has had ankylosing spondylitis before, then you have a higher risk of developing it yourself.

Tumors

Another possible cause of spine pain in teens is the presence of tumors. While it’s rare, tumors can cause pain in the back or neck due to pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots.

The type of tumors that cause pain vary. Meningiomas grow from the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. Sarcomas and leukemia originate from soft tissue or the blood, respectively.

Tumors are typically detected through a physical exam by a doctor, followed by imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan to confirm the presence of a tumor.

If Your Teen is Experiencing Spine Pain Contact The Carolina Spine and Pain Centers 

If your teen is experiencing spine pain, it’s important to contact a professional who can diagnose the cause and provide a plan of action. At The Carolina Spine and Pain Centers, we’re dedicated to helping teens and their families understand the causes of spinal pain and develop tailored treatment plans to manage their pain.

With an integrated approach that includes physical therapy, lifestyle modification, and minimally invasive procedures, our experienced team of pain specialists can help your teen find relief and start living an active life without fear of re-injury.

Don’t let the worry linger. Call us today or visit us online for a free consultation to learn more about how the Carolina Spine and Pain Centers can help you manage your teen’s spinal pain.