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Childhood Pain to Chronic Pain: Exploring the Link

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More than a billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain, defined as pain lasting six months or more. Approximately one in 50 children 18 and under are among those who experience chronic pain. A recent study suggests there may be a link between pain experienced during childhood and chronic pain experienced later in life.

Common Characteristics Among Pain Sufferers

One in six adults with chronic pain also suffered similar recurring pain during childhood, according to a University of Michigan study involving more than a thousand patients. Subjects who reported pain during their childhood and adult years were likely to:

  • Be female
  • Have some form of fibromyalgia
  • Have been diagnosed with high levels of anxiety

Emotional Stress and Chronic Pain

Fibromyalgia patients, in particular, tend to experience high levels of stress if the condition develops during childhood. Characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fibromyalgia is often difficult to diagnose since there is no single test for it. Consequently, pain symptoms tend to be dismissed, attributed incorrectly to another condition, or minimized, which may result in depression and anxiety that can make pain worse.

Fewer Treatment Options for Children

The study noted the lack of treatment options available for children with chronic pain, which may result in pain that carries over into adulthood because it was never properly diagnosed or treated in childhood. Chronic pain can also be difficult to treat in children since few hospitals treat chronic pain in children and pain medications for children are considerably weaker.

Carrying Issues into Adulthood

Another possible reason for the link between childhood and adult chronic pain may be due to a lingering inability to manage stress. Underlying conditions from childhood, such as depression, may also go untreated. In some cases, childhood pain may disappear or reach a point where it’s manageable only to return during stressful situations in adulthood.

Developing Better Resources

Researchers suggest a need to increase awareness of chronic pain in children to reduce the risk of it carrying over into adulthood. One possible solution is place an equal emphasis on the emotional and physical aspects of chronic pain regardless of what point in life it’s experienced.

Treatment for chronic pain often involves steps to successfully manage the discomfort to the point where quality of life is restored. Efforts are made to determine the true source of the pain to fine-tune treatment recommendations, which often include over-the-counter and prescription medications, physical therapy, lifestyle changes, and stress management.