Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Spinal pain in adolescents: prevalence, incidence, and course: a school-based two-year prospective cohort study in 1,300 Danes aged 11–13

Ellen Aartun1*, Jan Hartvigsen12, Niels Wedderkopp3 and Lise Hestbaek12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark

2 Nordic Institute of Chiropractic and Clinical Biomechanics, Odense, Denmark

3 Institute of Regional Health Services Research, Sygehus Lillebælt, University of Southern Denmark, Middelfart, Denmark

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2014, 15:187  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-15-187

Published: 29 May 2014



The severity and course of spinal pain is poorly understood in adolescents. The study aimed to determine the prevalence and two-year incidence, as well as the course, frequency, and intensity of pain in the neck, mid back, and low back (spinal pain).


This study was a school-based prospective cohort study. All 5th and 6th grade students (11–13 years) at 14 schools in the Region of Southern Denmark were invited to participate (N = 1,348). Data were collected in 2010 and again two years later, using an e-survey completed during school time.


The lifetime prevalence of spinal pain was 86% and 89% at baseline and follow-up, respectively. A group of 13.6% (95% CI: 11.8, 15.6) at baseline and 19.5% (95% CI: 17.1, 22.0) at follow-up reported that they had pain frequently. The frequency of pain was strongly associated with the intensity of pain, i.e., the majority of the participants reported their pain as relatively infrequent and of low intensity, whereas the participants with frequent pain also experienced pain of higher intensity. The two-year incidence of spinal pain varied between 40% and 60% across the physical locations. Progression of pain from one to more locations and from infrequent to more frequent was common over the two-year period.


Spinal pain is common at the age of 11–15 years, but some have more pain than others. The pain is likely to progress, i.e., to more locations, higher frequency, and higher pain intensity over a two-year period.

Prevalence; Incidence; Frequency; Intensity; Course; Spinal pain; Adolescence