Chronic pain is a condition that impacts many children and adolescents. Treatment often includes working with specialists in pain management, including physical therapy, psychology, medical providers and complementary services such as massage and acupuncture. However, given recent changes in our daily lives due to COVID-19, many families face the task of managing pain symptoms at home.
What Is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is any pain that lasts longer than three months (a child’s natural healing time). When a child has chronic pain, over time their body becomes increasingly sensitive to non-harmful sensations and signals. Chronic pain can also change a child’s moods, behaviors, interactions with others and their typical daily functioning.
Because chronic pain can impact several areas of a person’s life, treatment often requires many different approaches. Children with chronic pain may report that doing too much increases soreness and doing too little weakens the muscles. The major focus of chronic pain treatment is to ease your child back into typical daily tasks. When a child gains mastery of everyday tasks, chronic pain slowly improves.
The body’s natural stress response to strong emotions such as anxiety, anger, stress and sadness can increase overall sensitivity to pain. When your child reduces strong emotions, they are able to turn on the body’s parasympathetic system, our “rest and digest” system.
Coping skills are best taught by your child’s mental health provider or pediatrician. There are also many free apps and online videos demonstrating effective coping skills. Common coping skills are:
Progressive muscle relaxation
With acute pain, like a broken arm, it is best to rest. With chronic pain, however, regular daily movement is known to have many pain-reducing benefits. Regular physical activity improves a child’s mood, boosts their daily energy levels, improves sleep, maintains a healthy weight and can be fun!
Exercise should be thought of as movement that makes your child happy and should be gradually increased over time. Examples are:
Going for a walk around the neighborhood with family
Doing a fun online dance or yoga class
Riding a bike
Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices
Making good lifestyle choices helps regulate bodily functions, reduce inflammation and supports the immune system. When the body’s natural systems are operating smoothly, the body produces more natural pain defenses. Families should encourage:
A consistent sleep routine
Healthy and regular meals
Focusing on pain makes it worse. By engaging in activities that are fun and enjoyable, a child may be able to block the pain signals being received in the brain. Common favorite distraction ideas for children and adolescents include:
Spending time with family
Playing games with others
Shifting focus from a child’s limitations due to pain to what they are able to do, despite the pain, is the first step. This first step is the most important one towards improving a child’s overall functioning.
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