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Back Pain in Children: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Back pain has many possible causes. It is often related to problems with muscles and ligaments of the back. It may also be related to problems with the nerves, discs, or bones of the back. Moving, lifting, standing, sitting, or sleeping in an awkward way can strain the back. Sometimes children do not notice the injury until later.

Although it may hurt a lot, back pain usually improves on its own within several weeks. Most children recover in 12 weeks or less. Using good home treatment and being careful not to stress the back can help your child feel better sooner.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Have your child sit or lie in positions that are most comfortable and reduce your child's pain. Your child can try one of these positions when he or she lies down. Have your child:
    • Lie on his or her back with knees bent and supported by large pillows.
    • Lie on the floor with his or her legs on the seat of a sofa or chair.
    • Lie on his or her side with knees and hips bent and a pillow between the legs.
    • Lie on his or her stomach if it does not make pain worse.
  • Do not let your child sit up in bed. Your child should also avoid soft couches and twisted positions. Bedrest can help relieve pain at first, but it delays healing. Avoid bedrest after the first day.
  • Have your child change positions every 30 minutes. If your child must sit for long periods of time, have him or her take breaks from sitting. Have your child get up and walk around or lie in a comfortable position.
  • Try using a hot water bottle for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 or 3 hours. Keep a cloth between the hot water bottle and your child's skin.
  • Try a warm shower in place of one session with the hot water bottle.
  • You can also try an ice pack on your child's back for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice pack and your child's skin.
  • Be safe with medicines. Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Have your child take short walks several times a day. Your child can start with 5 to 10 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day, and work up to longer walks. Your child should stick to level surfaces and avoid hills and stairs until his or her back is better.
  • Have your child return to activities as soon as he or she can. Continued rest without activity is usually not good for your child's back.
  • To prevent future back pain, ask your doctor about exercises your child can do to stretch and strengthen his or her back and stomach. Teach your child how to use good posture, safe lifting techniques, and proper body mechanics.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child is unable to move a leg at all.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new or worse symptoms in his or her legs, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • Your child loses bladder or bowel control.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child has a fever, loses weight, or doesn't feel well.
  • Your child is not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.