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Back Pain Linked To Mental Health Problems And Risky Behaviors In Teenagers

teen back pain

Does your adolescent son or daughter suffer from back pain often? Teenagers who experience back pain often are also more likely to frequently smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and report problems like anxiety and depression.

Although often dismissed as trivial and fleeting, adolescent back pain is responsible for substantial health care use, school absence, and interference with day-to-day activities in some children.

A new study noted that during adolescence, the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain (pain arising from the bones, joints or muscles) in general, and back pain, in particular, rises steeply.

The study, detailed in the Journal of Public Health, the team used data collected from approximately 6,500 teenagers.

The prevalence of musculoskeletal pain — which is felt in the muscles or bones — was found to be on the rise during adolescence, with back pain being a particularly common complaint. With the rising frequency of pain, they observed the proportion of teens who reported smoking, drinking, and missed school days also increased steadily.

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For example, 14 to 15-year-olds who experienced pain more than once a week were 2-3 times more likely to have had alcohol or smoked in the past month than those who rarely or never had pain.

depressed teen
Credit: iStock / kieferpix

The teeangers who experienced pain more than once a week were also two times more likely to have missed school in the previous term. While trends related to mental health problems (namely anxiety and depression) were not as concrete, the researchers did find a noticeable association when comparing teens with no pain to those who reported frequent pain.

In the past, health experts noted the tendency to dismiss symptoms as "growing pains," when treatment should be provided.

Back pain, which is experienced by those in this age group, could potentially be a sign indicating poor overall health. Of course, if left unaddressed, this can extend into adulthood and increase the risk of chronic disease in the long run.

Adolescent back pain may play a role in characterising poor overall health, and risk of chronic disease throughout life. The researchers believe this is of concern because the developing brain may be susceptible to negative influences of toxic substances, and use in early adolescence may increase the risk of substance abuse and mental health problems in later life.

"Findings like this provide an argument that we should be including pain in the broader conversation about adolescent health," said lead author Steven Kamper, an associate professor at the University of Sydney, Australia.

"Unfortunately our understanding of the causes and [impact of] pain in this age group is quite limited; the area is badly in need of more research."

The research team behind the new study highlighted the increased risk of substance use as a major threat to well-being.

Smoking and alcohol consumption in early adolescence could increase the risk of substance abuse and mental health problems later in life.

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