Teens persist despite persistent back problems


Joanne Lee

infographic by Joanne Lee
While other students did their math assignments, senior Savannah Everett popped her back. Everett cringed as her classmates eerily stared at her through the broken silence.
“I pop my back at least three times every class period,” Everett said. “I would pop my back and every time I popped it, people would be like, ‘Ew.’ Most everyone’s pretty grossed out.”
Everett’s back-popping routine is because of her painful backache and is common in teenagers these days. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration reported that the U.S. has the highest percentage of teens  that claimed at least one backache in a week ­— 43 percent of females and 33 percent of males.
“There is a trend for an increasing rate of back pain in teens primarily due to the increasing rate of obesity and inactivity in this age group. Overall, this age group is more sedentary when compared to teenagers from previous generations,”  said Steven Meyer, Ph.D., Orthopedic Surgeon of the Columbia Orthopedic Group in an email. “Studies have shown [back pain] to be associated with carrying backpacks loaded with books, etc., that are disproportionately heavy for their bodies.”
According to Joel T. Jeffries, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor at the department of orthopedic surgery at the University of Missouri-Columbia, decrease in physical activities or abuse for the individual’s physical effort can be another cause for pain.
Senior Lela Prichett’s heavy backpack with several textbooks and dismal posture have compelled her to see a chiropractor. Pritchett said the constant throb has affected her lifestyle, as she has not been able to do her homework on her desk ever since the school year started.
“I do my homework lying down because my back hurts so much,” Pritchett said. “I think psychologically I do [homework] better when I’m sitting down on a desk, but then it hurts so much more.”
Sophomore Alexa Shelton also suffers from back pain, but she deals with it differently. She slouches her shoulders because of the heavy weight from her purse, weighing approximately 10 to 15 pounds.
“My posture’s not really that good,” Shelton said. “I always have shoulder pains. It’s probably because of all the books I carry in my school bag, along with books I carry in my purse. I always have to switch off carrying my bag on my other shoulder because it starts to ache.”
The ramifications of common back pain are serious, but other problems can arise in the spinal cord too. Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine curves in an S or C shape instead of the typical, straighter spine.
Posture, weight or heavy backpacks do not cause scoliosis. Nevertheless, according to musculoskeletal health group Core Concepts, there is a link between scoliosis and back pains that cause weakness or tightness of the muscles surrounding the spine.
Having scoliosis “mainly affects my posture,” junior Grace Gabel said. “I just slouch.”
During Gabel’s sixth grade Physical Education class, officials discovered her case of mild scoliosis. Professionals told her there was a curvature in her spine and that it should be monitored.
“Scoliosis likely has the greatest impact on teenagers. It is not a common problem,” Meyer said. “However, as the deformity progresses, it has a huge impact on cosmesis and as it becomes severe can affect pulmonary function, ability to walk upright, etc.”
The best way to avoid  general back pain, according to Boone Hospital physical therapist Robin Wilson, is to eat a healthy balanced diet and maintain an active lifestyle with regular exercise at least three times per week.
Using good posture with all activities, not twisting or bending from the waist with lifting and keeping equal weight load on both sides of the body when carrying objects for any length of time also help.
Now, Everett monitors her posture with the help of her mother. Everett admitted in the past she has abused and overused her back with too much strain while playing tennis and maintaining bad posture, something her mother warned against.  Eventually, Everett learned dealing with her posture was more important. She would painstakingly try to fix her posture as opposed to dealing with the pain later in life by doing things such as popping her back.
“My mom [told] me all the time [to sit up]. She’d say ‘Hey, that’s not very good posture,’ and I said ‘I don’t care,’” Everett said. “She’d say ‘Well, you’re going to care 50 years later.’”
By Joanne Lee