There are approximately 1.5 billion worldwide chronic pain sufferers in the world, with one in 50 children under the age of eighteen suffering from chronic pain. Fifteen percent of all children suffer from musculoskeletal pain and other aches, but 2% of children suffer from pain that is debilitating enough to interfere with daily activities.  It is hard enough to watch children suffer from a chronic pain condition, but new research indicates that the pain may not end in childhood. A study from the University of Michigan found that one in six pain patients suffered from childhood chronic pain.

This means that there is a strong chance that fibromyalgia pain may very well have been established in childhood, making the initial causes of the condition even more difficult to address.

Researchers in the study interviewed over 1,000 adult patients who were being treated for chronic pain, asking them about childhood chronic pain, family history, prior treatments, and physical/psychological limitations. Of the patients interviewed, one in six new patients, most of whom were female, reported pain in childhood. Those pain patients who reported pain in childhood were most likely to be treated for fibromyalgia and were also diagnosed with higher levels of anxiety. Patients with pain in childhood also had lower levels of functioning and were less able to cope with their pain.

Fibromyalgia, the predominant chronic pain condition for those patients with childhood chronic pain in the study, is a mysterious condition. Affecting mostly women, fibromyalgia can be brought on by injury, but more often than not its cause is difficult to pinpoint. Fibromyalgia patients have high levels of anxiety and depression, and this “invisible” illness can be difficult to diagnose, as there is no one definitive test. Patients may feel isolated, and their family and professional lives may suffer.

Add this complex condition to the fact that childhood chronic pain is one of the least studied forms of chronic pain, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Children and adolescents who suffer from chronic pain are more likely to suffer depression and be isolated from classmates and family. Knowing that they may face a future with chronic pain as an adult can be devastating.

Parents of children with chronic pain tend to have higher rates of marital stress and divorce, and financial difficulties are often present. They report feeling powerless and experiencing high rates of stress, watching their child struggle, and they often don’t know how to deal with these feelings.

Childhood chronic pain is difficult to treat, as very few medications are approved for childhood use.  What medication is prescribed is adult medicine in smaller doses, unstudied in children. There are very few hospitals or practices that focus on treatments for childhood chronic pain.

The extreme lack of information regarding chronic pain in children can have consequences that reach well into not only the individual’s life but also into society. Health care costs are rising, and nearly 40% of chronic pain patients are on disability. It is important to begin studying chronic pain in children in order to prevent some cases of chronic pain in adults, including fibromyalgia.

Starting with Pain Awareness Month, children with chronic pain and their families can reach out to doctors and other family members to educate them about chronic pain and its effects.

Partners for Understanding Pain has the following goals that guide its organization of over 80 individuals and groups who work with pain patients and their families:

  • Create greater understanding among health care professionals, individuals, and families who are struggling with pain management
  • Show the business community, legislators, and the general public that pain is a serious public health issue
  • Offer a comprehensive network of resources and knowledge about issues in pain management
  • Build understanding and support that can help people with chronic, acute, and cancer pain lead better lives

Pain Awareness Month is a time to engage with the community about what chronic pain is and how to deal with it, but many families with children in chronic pain have reached a crisis point and don’t know where to turn. For these families, support either in person or in an online group may be crucial to help to develop better coping tools. has an online chronic pain support group that includes a forum for posting and answering questions. The community is active and moderated, two essential characteristics for a good online support group, and it can offer support and friendship for those families who are looking for answers. This type of support can only help chronic pain patients as they grow into adults, and perhaps it can help prevent some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia and other pain conditions.

Childhood chronic pain may lead to chronic pain in adults, specifically fibromyalgia in women, but it needn’t be that way. Raising awareness and studying childhood chronic pain may help to prevent this legacy of pain from happening.

Other ways to help children cope with and potentially relieve pain include:

  • Helping your child focus on the good things, not the pain
  • Keeping life as normal as possible, such as by sending your child to school and activities if at all possible
  • Working with your doctor on an anti-inflammatory diet to help control pain
  • Keeping a chart of pain flare-ups to see if you can identify triggers
  • Learning and practicing relaxation and visualization exercises
  • Communicating with your child and validating their feelings

Childhood chronic pain should not be taken lightly, as it has potential repercussions in adulthood. How have you dealt with childhood chronic pain?

Image by Vladimir Pustovit via Flickr


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