An analysis of children with chronic pain conditions


As many healthcare professionals know, chronic pain is a widespread but often under-reported health problem with a significant impact on society. In the U.S. alone, the costs of chronic pain can reach $600 billion annually (healthcare and lost productivity). What has come as a surprise to many medical researchers, however, is the number of children who suffer from chronic pain conditions.

A study conducted by The American Pain Foundation reported up to 30 percent of children and adolescents endure chronic pain, which generally peaks in kids around 14 to 15 years of age.

Various medical associations and institutes have different definitions as to what constitutes chronic pain, but generally it is described as pain that continues well beyond the normal healing stage of acute pain. Chronic pain can be continuous, or it can be episodic. While diseases, such as arthritis, can contribute to the emergence of chronic pain, sometimes the cause can be a complete mystery. The most prevalent pain condition in kids is headache; other pain problems noted are abdominal pain and musculoskeletal pain.

A Canadian medical study reviewed research published in the last 20 years on children and chronic pain, and it revealed the problem is affecting more kids than ever before. The review also indicates girls experience chronic pain more often than boys; however, the reasons for this remain unclear.

The research reviewers noted that social and psychological factors may influence the development of chronic pain, including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and low socioeconomic status. The research concluded that chronic pain is overwhelmingly prevalent in children and adolescents and that researchers and clinicians should be aware of the problem and the long-term consequences of chronic pain in children.


Chronic pain treatment can be a challenge


Just like adults, children may suffer additional disadvantages because of chronic pain. They are more likely to miss school, avoid or withdraw from extracurricular activities and develop mental health problems. Despite the increasing rate of chronic pain among children, there are several obstacles that make treating kids for this health condition a challenge.

Young children may not have the verbal skills to express their pain. Even when they can, kids may want to avoid seeing a doctor and consequently don’t share their pain with parents. Without verbal cues from their children, parents may not notice chronic pain issues as many kids can carry on normally. However, consistent untreated pain in childhood boosts the risk of numerous health problems emerging in adulthood.


Clues for parents 

What can a parent do to detect pain problems in his or her child? Keep an eye out for some of these behaviors:

• Changes in appetite

• Changes in sleep patterns

• Weight loss

• Irritability

• Avoiding social activities

• Less physically active

• Fever

• Sweating

• Flushed skin

• Shallow or fast breathing

If your child shows these symptoms, ask about pain and where it is occurring in the body and then consult your pediatrician or other healthcare professional. Treating chronic pain in children can be a challenge because most treatment protocols have been designed for adults. Consulting with a trained medical professional as soon as pain symptoms develop is your best option for resolving the issue before it becomes more significant and impacts the activities your child enjoys most.

Dr. Erika Hamer, DC, DIBCN, DIBE, is a chiropractic neurologist and the owner of Ponte Vedra Wellness Center, offering chiropractic care and related health and wellness services at offices in Ponte Vedra Beach and Nocatee Town Center.