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Mechanical back pain

What is mechanical back pain?

Mechanical back pain (MBP) is back pain which is related to movement or activity but with no underlying bone, joint or disc abnormalities. This is usually most common in children age 10 or over and is self limiting.

Why does mechanical back pain occur in children?

Children have growing skeletons, which causes varying degrees of muscle imbalance. During a growth spurt, especially puberty, the bones grow much faster than the muscles can stretch. This can mean that some muscles can become tight.

Other factors can contribute to this such as carrying heavy school bags, sitting with a poor posture in school, sitting for prolonged periods at home on computers or games consoles.

Will this back pain cause problems for me in later life?

Do not be worried about this pain, it is not associated with any damage to you or your spine.

What are the signs and symptoms of MBP?

Signs and symptoms of MBP include:

  • Being ‘achy’.
  • Vague or generalised area of pain which often moves sites.
  • Pain after a particular activity, commonly with walking long distances.
  • Pain during prolonged sitting or standing.
  • Pain eases with rest, change of position, heat packs and pain killers.

What can I do to help?

Some things that can help with the pain can include:

  • Maintain an active lifestyle, find an activity that you enjoy and you will feel motivated to continue.
  • Exercise within your own comfortable limits.
  • Minimise the weight of your school bag (as a rough guide no more than 10% of your body weight). Use a bag that loads your spine symmetrically, so a backpack worn on both shoulders is preferable.
  • Sit and stand with a good posture.
  • Change position regularly, especially when studying and using computers or games consoles etc.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Do not rest in bed if you have back pain, it has been proven that back pain responds best to gentle exercise and activity.

What is a good posture?

When sitting or standing, it is helpful to be aware of holding yourself in a neutral position. Helpful cues for this are:

  • Imagine that you have a helium balloon on a string attached to the top of your head. As the balloon floats upwards, feel it pulling you upwards and elongating your spine.
  • Imagine that you are a soldier on parade in full uniform with all your medals on the breast pockets. Imagine that you are proudly showing off your medals by opening out your chest and shoulders.
  • Think about the rim of your pelvis being the rim of a bucket, this bucket is full to the top with water. Try to keep the bucket level so that you do not pour any water out of the front or the back.

Remember, prevention is better than cure. Statistics show that if we have happy healthy backs as children we are less likely to have back pain as an adult.

Contact us

Candice Sutcliffe
Spinal Extended Scope Practitioner
Telephone: 0114 271 7227

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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