Child Orthopedics

Frequently Asked Questions

Our 12-year old son was just diagnosed with a slipped disc. I've never heard of this in children. Could the diagnosis be wrong?

Slipped disc more correctly referred to as disc protrusion or disc herniation is rare in children, especially under the age of 12. Disc herniation in older children and teens (ages 12 to 17) has been reported. The actual incidence is unknown but reports are between 0.5 and 4 percent.

It is difficult to diagnose disc problems in young people. The symptoms seem to come and go and aren't always the same as for an adult. Many times their back and/or leg pain is passed off as hamstring tightness or muscle sprain. Back stiffness with scoliosis (curve in the spine) may develop.

X-rays are often negative even when there is a disc problem. CT scan and MRI are much more reliable but not often ordered in this age group.

It may be helpful to ask the physician how the diagnosis was reached. If more advanced imaging has not been ordered, then this may be the next best step to confirm the diagnosis.

Yossi Smorgick, MD, et al. Mid- to Long-Term Outcome of Disc Excision in Adolescent Disc Herniation. In The Spine Journal. July/August 2006. Vol. 6. No. 4. Pp. 380-384.

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