Chronic pain in kids: It’s not all physical

Chronic pain – millions of Americans live with it every day. Mostly older adults, right? Not necessarily. Studies suggest more than thirty percent of children grow up experiencing chronic pain. What causes it? The answer may surprise you.

Emily Wegmann said, “Seeing my friends go out and me trying to keep up with them was very hard.” She grew up in so much pain the simplest movements hurt.

“I couldn’t even get myself dressed. I couldn’t do my hair.” said Emily.

Emily has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It’s one of the most common causes of chronic pain in kids, followed by fibromyalgia, headaches, and those dreaded growing pains. But sometimes pain in children is not just physical.

Aimee Hersh, MD, Pediatric Rheumatologist, Univ. of Utah Health/Primary Children’s Hospital said, “We’ve been seeing more children with chronic pain. I think the pandemic was a huge stressor that’s probably contributed to that in some ways.”

Up to a third of all high school students said they were mentally and physically impacted by the pandemic.

“A lot of the ways that kids express the anxiety, or the stress, or even the depressive symptoms they’re feeling, is in their muscles and joints.” Explained Doctor Hersh.

Pediatric Rheumatologist Aimee Hersh says it’s not uncommon for patients who have mental health conditions to have chronic pain. “I think sometimes that chronic pain piece is sometimes maybe downplayed and that there’s more of a focus on the mental health piece.”

And research shows that a parent’s reaction to their child’s pain is important. In fact, children whose parents became depressed over their child’s condition reported suffering more intense pain, more disability, and a poor quality of life.

But by improving a child’s mental and physical health and also working on their sleep, you can help to ease your child’s pain.

A study out of Seattle Children’s Research Institute showed that children who had less sleep leading up to surgery experienced more intense pain two weeks after their procedures. Another interesting fact: chronic pain is more common in girls than boys. Studies also show that children with chronic pain who stay in school and participate in normal activities are less disabled in the long run.

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