Parents urged to monitor teens as back pain linked to mental illness

Physical and mental health are interlinked, study suggests.
Physical and mental health are interlinked, study suggests.  Photo: File image.

Frequent back pain is linked to poor mental and physical health in teenagers, an Australian study has found.

Data from more than 6400 Australian teenagers aged between 14 and 16 found those with back pain were more likely to smoke, drink alcohol and report anxiety and depression.

The research found those who experienced back pain more than once a week were 2.8 times more likely to have smoked or to have consumed alcohol in the past month than those who rarely or never experienced back pain.

Teens who reported experiencing back pain more than once a week were twice as likely as those without pain to have missed school in the previous term.

Ashley de Silva, chief executive of child health advocacy group Reach Out WA, said the link between back pain and mental health made sense.

“Physical health is a protective factor against things like depression and anxiety,” he said.

“No doubt young people in these circumstances face unique challenges on a daily basis, along with whatever else life throws at them be it exam stress, cyberbullying or stress about the future.”

Study lead author Professor Steven Kamper said parents should monitor their teenager’s behaviour when they experience back pain and seek medical advice immediately.

“Musculoskeletal pain in this age group was often dismissed as trivial or fleeting,” he said.


“This study shows that adolescents with frequent pain are also at increased risk of other health problems."

The study also correlated adolescents with back pain seeking the pain-reducing effects of substance use.

“This is of concern as both pain and these risky behaviours have ongoing consequences that stretch well into adulthood," Professor Kamper said.

“While we can’t say back pain is the cause of risky behaviour or mental health concerns, the study suggests adolescent back pain may play a role in characterising overall poor health, and risk ofchronic disease."

Mr de Silva said he hoped parents weren’t afraid to talk, and urged them to share some of their own teenage experiences with their children.

“If you spot a sign the most important thing to do is to open up the conversation with the youngperson and see where they’re at,” he said.

For more information visit ReachOut.