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Incidents of Chronic Pain in Children, Does it Pose a Problem?

Recent study makes it appear that chronic pain is fairly common

A large number of recent studies have analyzed chronic (lasting a long time) and recurrent pain in school-age pediatrics (8-16 year old children), mainly by using community surveys. To summarize the findings of these studies, a team of researchers led by S. King conducted a review. According to the review, one in four schoolchildren has headaches at least weekly, one in four has back pain at least once a month, and one in five has abdominal pain at least weekly. Though some of these figures may seem alarming at first, further explanation is required to clear up why they stand as they are. The review led by King goes on to put these findings in perspective, while adding some additional points on current and future research on the topic.

Many children are predisposed to pain, and only few actually experience disability

Research from the review found that many of the different chronic and recurrent pain syndromes for pediatrics are actually considered to be a result of an underlying vulnerability to pain. This means that certain children have a higher likelihood of experiencing pain than others, and more studies need to be created that look into this variable to see who's at a higher risk. The other important factor that must be acknowledged when looking over the figures from King is that many of the studies reviewed did not report on the severity or impact of the pain the children were experiencing. In actuality, the majority of children who report chronic pain aren't greatly disabled by it. This was proven in another separate study, where 561 schoolchildren were surveyed for differing levels of pain, and results showed that while 37% of children reported chronic pain syndromes, only 5% were moderately or severely disabled by the pain. This proves that the severity of pain must be explained in order for results to be completely understood. One additional point to keep in mind is that younger children's grasp of time may not be completely reliable, and it's possible they might refer to an episode that happened a month ago as one that happened last week. While an effective method to better capture data hasn't yet been devised, this calls for more immediate collections of information for younger subjects to get more accurate reads on pain.

Chronic pain may be less of an issue than review suggests, but more research needed

After breaking down some of the elements of this review, while chronic pain is an issue that needs to be addressed, it doesn't seem to be a major one. This is mainly due to the fact that other studies show most instances of pain in school-age children are either not chronic or don't lead to disability. Nonetheless, more research can help determine more specific rates on who suffers from and who is more likely to develop chronic pain for the age group. Studies that analyze psychological symptoms like depression and larger-scale studies that report on pain right after it happens to minimize issues with memory could help this process. Therefore, a set of quality criteria should be created for future studies, which promotes the use of all these factors, so as to better guide research on the topic. In the meantime, children experiencing chronic pain and disability should see a physician for treatment, and for back pain and other problems with muscles or joints, a physical therapist can be a logical and effective choice.

-As reported in the Dec. '11 edition of Pain

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