Back Spasm, No Trauma (Child)

Anything that puts stress on the muscles, ligaments, and bones can cause back pain and spasm. A muscle spasm is an involuntary muscle contraction. The muscles cramp up and become very tight. They may feel hard. Muscle spasms can be very painful. They may occur in the upper or lower back, on one or both sides of the spine. This condition is called a back spasm.

Back spasms in children can be caused by too much exercise or muscle fatigue. A too-soft mattress or heavy school backpack can also contribute to back spasms. 

Illnesses can also cause back pain. It's often difficult or impossible for a young child to explain what they feel and what the problem is. Because children have trouble describing things, it may be hard for you to figure out if an illness is causing your child's pain, rather than an injury. Other causes may include dehydration, bladder infections, appendicitis, or abdominal infections. Follow up with your child's healthcare provider if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Fever, chills, or weight loss

  • Weakness or numbness

  • Trouble walking

  • Pain that radiates down one or both legs

  • Bowel or bladder problems

  • Pain that keeps the child from sleeping

The earlier the cause of a problem is found, the better. Have your child see their provider if the back pain lasts for more than a few days or gets worse. Depending on what the provider finds after talking with you and examining your child, tests may be done.

Muscle spasms may go away with slow stretching or massaging of the muscles. The provider may prescribe pain and anti-inflammatory medicines. Treatment depends on the cause of the spasm. Mild pain caused by minor problems often goes away in a few weeks. 

Home care

Your child's healthcare provider may prescribe medicines to treat the pain and inflammation. Follow the provider’s instructions when using these medicines. The medicines are often given until your child is pain-free.

General care

  • During the first 24 to 72 hours after an injury, apply an ice pack to the painful area for 20 minutes, then remove it for 20 minutes. Do this over a period of 60 to 90 minutes, or as often as your child will tolerate it. This will reduce swelling and pain. To make an ice pack, put ice cubes in a plastic bag that seals at the top. Wrap the bag in a clean, thin towel or cloth. Never put ice or an ice pack directly on the skin.

  • You can start with ice then switch to heat. Heat (a warm bath or heating pad) reduces pain. Heat can be applied to the painful area for 20 minutes, then removed for 20 minutes. Do this over a period of 60 to 90 minutes or as often as your child will tolerate it. As a safety precaution, don't let your child sleep on a heating pad. Sleeping with a heating pad can lead to skin burns and tissue damage.

  • You can switch between ice and heat therapy.

  • Massage can help relax the back muscles. Try rubbing the area that hurts. Be gentle. The idea is to relax the muscles, not manipulate them.

  • Allow your child to continue most normal activities as tolerated. Bed rest is not needed. Your child should not lift or jump until the muscles have completely healed.

  • Help your child do any exercises advised by the provider. Exercises can help prevent the back pain from coming back. When your child is no longer in pain, he or she should get at least 30 minutes of active play (walking, running, bike riding) each day. 

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider, or as advised. 

Special note to parents

Talk with the healthcare provider about guidelines for safe backpack use. 

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confusion

  • Abnormal drowsiness or trouble waking up

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Fast or very slow heart rate

  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

When to get medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the healthcare provider

  • Chills

  • Severe cramping

  • Cramping that lasts a long time, doesn't go away with stretching, or keeps coming back

  • Pain, tingling, or weakness in legs

  • Trouble walking

  • Pain that wakes the child up at night

  • Weight loss

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