Chronic back pain is uncommon in toddlers; of course, young children will occasionally complain of back pain if they are stuck in a car seat for too long or if they slept in an uncomfortable position the night before. If your toddler constantly complains of back pain, though, it should always be checked out by a doctor.
Typically in children, back pain can be traced to a certain injury – for example, falling off of playground equipment. If this is the case, let your child get plenty of rest until he or she no longer complains of pain. If your child’s condition does not improve after a few days, bring him or her to the doctor. Be especially concerned if your child did not suffer any injury or strain that you can think of.
In toddlers, a few other problems sometimes accompany back pain. These include fever, change in posture or gait, incontinence in potty-trained children, or constant pain that does not improve with rest. A doctor can order x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs to pinpoint the cause of the problem.
Causes of Chronic Back Pain in Toddlers
Chronic back pain in toddlers is always a serious issue. A few causes include infections, disk problems, arthritis, and tumors. These problems can affect the quality of life, and in severe cases they can even be life-threatening.
A couple of infections that affect the spine are kidney infections and meningitis. Because the kidneys are located very close to the lower part of the spine, a kidney infection can cause sharp pain in the back. Typically, kidney infections are accompanied by other symptoms, including fever, nausea, and pain while urinating.
Meningitis is either a bacterial or viral infection that affects the lining and fluid covering the brain and spinal cord. This infection is characterized by severe pain and stiffness in the back of the neck. Meningitis is an extremely dangerous infection that can result in brain damage or even death if untreated, so if your toddler has this symptom along with fever, vomiting, and photophobia (sensitivity to light) go to an emergency room immediately rather than simply calling a doctor.
Other possible causes include disk problems (such as spondylolysis and disk herniation), juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), and tumors. Spondylolysis occurs in about 5 percent of children and normally is not so severe that it requires any invasive treatments. The pain is exacerbated by excessive activity, so plenty of rest is in order for children affected by it. Disk herniation is another rare back disorder in children. Characterized by numbness and weakness, the best way to treat it is with bedrest. Both of these conditions can be improved with surgery if necessary, though this is always a last resort. JRA involves stiffness of the joints, and sometimes it is so severe that it can affect a child’s gait. In extremely rare cases, tumors of the spine can be the cause of back pain in toddlers.