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Back pain is a common symptom in children and adolescents. Here we review the important causes, of which defects and stress reactions of the pars interarticularis are the most common identifiable problems. More serious pathology, including malignancy and infection, needs to be excluded when there is associated systemic illness. Clinical evaluation and management may be difficult and always requires a thorough history and physical examination. Diagnostic imaging is obtained when symptoms are persistent or severe. Imaging is used to reassure the patient, relatives and carers, and to guide management.