Treating Youngsters with "Slipped Discs"
Can children and teenagers have back pain from a "slipped disc"? Yes. Although rare in children nine to 12 years old (only three cases on record), this condition is more common between ages 12 and 16.
A spongy pad called an intervertebral disc separates the bones of the spine. When the disc bulges out and pushes against the spinal nerves inside the spinal canal, low back pain with or without leg pain can occur. Though commonly called a "slipped disc," the medical term for this condition is disc herniation.
Back pain from a disc herniation can occur in adults and teenagers, usually from direct injury to the back, sports activities, or lifting heavy objects. Researchers looking at cases of children and teens from nine to 18 years of age also discovered a large number (31 percent) who had changes in their bone structure. Curvature of the spine (scoliosis), narrowing of the space for the spinal cord (stenosis), and differences in the normal shape of the bones were the most common changes observed. Researchers think these defects most likely result in discs that herniate at an early age.
Treatment for a herniated disc in the low back begins with medication. Other treatment includes physical therapy, bracing, and surgery. Surgery to remove a small covering of the vertebral column over the injured disc is called laminectomy. When the disc is also removed, the procedure is called discectomy.
Some doctors have questioned the success of surgery for this problem. By studying 129 cases of children ages nine to 18 years, doctors were able to see that right after surgery, pain was decreased or eliminated. Three-quarters of these children could continue their previous activities.
However, when these children and teenagers were contacted years later, more than half had back or leg pain causing them to avoid some activities. Until better treatment choices are available, doctors recommend close follow-up for anyone under the age of 18 who has surgery for this kind of back problem.
Patrizio Parisini, MD, et al. Lumbar Disc Excision in Children and Adolescents. In Spine. September 15, 2001. Vol. 26. No. 18. Pp. 1997-2000.