Back Pain in Children

Many of our patients are dealing with significant pain when they come to see us, often from an injury, but also related to spine disease, spinal deformities, tumors, connective tissue diseases, spina bifida, or tethered cord syndrome. Pain is also sometimes a problem after spinal surgery, and it can last weeks or months. That’s why our center offers a unique, comprehensive approach to addressing pain and symptoms.

Back pain can be debilitating and can keep children from participating in sports as well as hinder their daily lives. Early diagnosis and treatment of back pain is crucial to the child’s getting back to an active life and avoiding a long-term injury. Our team of doctors and physical therapists who specialize in pain management will work with your family to find the right treatment for your child’s needs.

What are symptoms of back pain?

Symptoms of back pain include:

  • Pain down the legs
  • Numbness
  • Persistent back pain—lying down or resting does not help
  • Dull, achy sensation
  • Sharp bursts of pain

What are some causes of back pain?

Causes of back pain include:

  • Lifting something that is too heavy
  • Lifting something improperly
  • The result of an abrupt and awkward movement
  • Stress/anxiety
  • Strained muscles/ligament
  • Poor posture
  • Spinal deformity
  • Spinal tumors

How is back pain treated at Stanford Children’s Health’s Pediatric Spine Center?

We take a nonoperative approach whenever possible, starting with the least invasive measures to address your child’s pain. Physical therapy to help strengthen the core is often the main treatment for children with back pain.

Nonpharmacological pain management

Whether or not your child needs surgery, we do an assessment of his or her needs to uncover any concerns. These may include fear or anxiety about surgery or dealing with symptoms. We incorporate nonpharmacological methods into a plan for your child to follow that may include integrative techniques:

  • Reducing stress. For many children, pain is worse when they’re stressed. Your child can learn ways to reduce stress, such as breathing techniques, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, body scanning, mindfulness meditation, yoga, and clinical hypnosis.
  • Biofeedback. This technique is used to control the body’s response and to gain better awareness of its functions.
  • Acupuncture and acupressure. These techniques, performed by certified practitioners, involve stimulating specific points on the body to provide pain relief.

We may recommend treatment with osteopathy. The practice treats the body as a whole, including emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. Stanford Medicine Children’s Health has the only osteopathic physician in the country who focuses on pediatric pain. By manipulating the spine and the myofascial layers of the body, he works to adjust the autonomic nervous system and release pain over time.

Surgical and pharmacological pain management

If nonpharmacological options are not a fit for your child’s needs, we offer several other treatment options:

  • Our team performs a large number of branch blocks, nerve route blocks, and epidurals.
  • If needed, our team performs minimally invasive spine procedures to reduce pain by injecting steroids.
  • We believe that opioids are valuable for treatment of severe pain in some patients. But pain in the vast majority of children can be managed well without opioids.

We can also use longer-term options like radiofrequency ablation, in which a small area of nerve tissue is heated with electrical current to keep it from sending pain signals.