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A to Z Symptom: Back Pain

May also be called: Lumbago

Back pain is fairly common, even in kids and teens. It can happen anywhere along the back, and might be a dull ache or a sharp, shooting pain.

More to Know


Back pain often is caused by muscle strain or sprain, often from an injury. Another important cause is wearing a heavy backpack — this can affect posture and cause bones of the spine to press on or pinch the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.

muscles illustration

Less commonly, back pain can be caused by a fracture (break) in a vertebra (spine bone) or slipping of vertebrae on each other. This happens more often in kids and teens who engage in back-bending activities, like gymnastics.

Stiffness and pain in the lower back, sometimes called lumbago, can be caused by things like lifting heavy objects or sitting in one position for too long. It usually will go away on its own within a few days or weeks. Until then, it can be managed by staying active and taking short-term medicines (acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to control pain.


Treatment, if needed, will depend on the cause of the pain. Minor pain can be eased by applying a heating pad or warm pack to the area or with gentle massage. 

If an overloaded backpack is to blame, kids and teens can reduce back strain by:

  • choosing a backpack with two wide shoulder straps and a padded back
  • not carrying more than 10% to 15% of their body weight in the pack

Keep in Mind

Many cases of back pain can be prevented by stretching before and after physical activities, getting regular low-impact exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding heavy lifting. But if pain lasts or is accompanied by other symptoms, call your doctor.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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