BACKGROUND: Although adolescent spinal pain increases the risk for chronic back pain in adulthood, most adolescents can be regarded as healthy. The aim of the present study was to provide data on localization, intensity and frequency of adolescent spinal pain and to investigate which physical and psycho-social parameters predict these pain characteristics.
METHOD: On the occasion of Spine Day, an annual event where children and adolescents are examined by chiropractors on a voluntary basis for back problems, 412 adolescents (10 to 16 years) were tested (by questionnaire and physical examination). Pain characteristics (localization, intensity, and frequency) were identified and evaluated using descriptive statistics. Regression analyses were performed to investigate possible influencing psycho-social and physical influence factors.
RESULTS: Adolescents who suffered from pain in more than one spinal area reported higher pain intensity and frequency than those with pain in only one spinal area. Sleep disorders were a significant predictor for pain in more than one spinal area (p < 0.01) as well as a trend for frequent pain (p = 0.06). Adolescents with frequent pain showed impaired balance on one leg standing with closed eyes (p = 0.02).
CONCLUSIONS: Studies on adolescent spinal pain should report data on pain frequency, intensity and localization. Adolescents who present with pain in more than one spinal area or report frequent pain should be followed carefully. Reduced balance with visual deprivation might be a physical indicator of a serious back problem.