Though chronic pain affects 1 in 5 children, parents are seldom taught how to help manage symptoms. Whether you are working with kids who are in constant pain or you are the parents who are panicking over their child’s suffering it’s not easy. Keep reading for ways to help deal with your child’s chronic pain:
Psychological treatments are among the best tools to reduce chronic pain, regardless of what is causing the pain. Research shows that the impact of many different types of pain — including headaches, abdominal pain, nerve pain, and musculoskeletal pain — can be lessened with exercises that are rooted in psychology.
All pain sensation is processed in the brain, not in the tissues of the body. This means we can use brain-based strategies to “dial down” pain sensitivity, much like you might use a dimmer on a lamp to turn down a light. In addition to learning how to dial down pain sensitivity, psychologically based strategies are directed toward modifying how we think about pain.
It’s easy to understand that ongoing pain is a scary experience for kids, but most people are surprised to learn that this innate fear of pain amplifies the pain signal, which leads to more physical discomfort. The antidote to this lies in retraining the brain to think about pain differently. For example, when kids shift from thinking, “This pain is unbearable,” to thinking, “Today is a tough day,” they almost immediately have less fear, and in turn begin to feel better physically.
As an early step in treatment, kids are often encouraged to get back to their daily routines even when pain is present. Some worry this could exacerbate pain. Our mind and body, however, are equipped with the capacity to rewire and adapt; through successive exposures to typical activity, we can often retrain the brain and body to move without fear — and eventually without pain.
All pain sensation is processed in the brain, not in the tissues of the body. This means we can use brain-based strategies to “dial down” pain sensitivity, much like you might use a dimmer on a lamp to turn down a light.
It’s common for a child with pain to fall behind in school. Getting back on track can be difficult. A pain psychologist can intervene by teaching child mind-body relaxation skills to reduce pain sensitivity, advocating for supportive school-based accommodations, developing a stepwise plan for increased school activity (such as attendance or homework completion), and monitoring progress by assessing pain triggers and easing factors along the way.
Connecting to others who have a shared experience and learning from peers who have successfully returned to their full lives after dealing with chronic pain are essential for introducing hope and promoting engagement with these evidence-based skills. Look for local pain-management workshops that have helped families across the U.S. who have a child with chronic pain.
With these important skills in place, many kids and parents may begin to relax and to chart the path forward.
Want more? Listen to episode 31 of the Peak Performers Podcast with Carrie Cheadle! We discussed ways for young athletes to regain confidence and build resilience through injury recovery.
Carrie Cheadle is an author and expert in sports performance. Both parents and athletes (especially those navigating injuries) are encouraged to listen to this episode together. Carrie has been working on the performance of teams, organizations, and individual athletes and exercisers since 2002. She is the author of the book “On Top of Your Game: Mental Skills to Maximize Your Athletic Performance” and co-author of the upcoming book “Rebound”, which will be released in 2019 and focuses on helping injured athletes regain confidence and build resilience through injury recovery and return to sport.