OBJECTIVES: To investigate the association between leisure physical activity and various pain symptoms in adolescents. METHODS: In this nationwide cohort based cross sectional study in Finland, 698 schoolchildren, 344 girls and 354 boys, aged 10 to 17 years responded to a questionnaire on pain symptoms (neck and shoulder pain, upper back pain, low back pain, upper limb pain, lower limb pain, headache, and abdominal pain) and physical activity habits and also participated in a fitness test. RESULTS: Reported physical activity correlated with measured fitness. Musculoskeletal pains (p = 0.013) (in particular low back pain (p = 0.022), upper limb pain (p<0.001), and lower imb pain (p<0.001)) were found more often in subjects participating in large amounts of leisure physical activity, while non-musculoskeletal pains (p = 0.065) (in particular headache among boys (p = 0.004)) tended to be less common. Co-occurrence of different musculoskeletal pains was common in subjects participating in sports. CONCLUSIONS: In addition to its likely long term health benefits, vigorous physical activity causes musculoskeletal pains during adolescence. This should be considered when tailoring health promotion programmes to adolescents. Also, co-occurrence of musculoskeletal pains may occur as the result of sports activity, which should be considered as a confounder in epidemiological studies on fibromyalgia and related issues.
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