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Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is different from acute pain because it persists. Pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months, even years. Chronic pain in children has been defined as a pain lasting for longer than three months. In other words, it is a pain that persists beyond the time of healing.

The age of the child also plays a role in defining chronic pain. For example, if a two-month-old infant has been in pain since birth, health care professionals will likely define that as chronic pain.

Over time, chronic pain can become a disease in and of itself. Unlike the warning signal of acute pain, chronic pain messages no longer serve a purpose. The nerves continue to respond with a pain signal when there is no apparent reason for a signal at all.

Chronic pain can subdivided into chronic non-malignant pain, and cancer pain. Chronic non-malignant pain may begin as an acute pain such as following surgery or trauma, may occur in association with a disease such as arthritis or sickle cell disease, and may sometimes occur for no obvious reason. 

For more details about cancer pain and recurrent pain, see Other Types of Pain

Children suffering from chronic pain may have varying amounts of disability, from mild to severe with impact on sleep, mood, school attendance, hobbies, sports and social isolation. The degree of disability may be independent of the amount of tissue damage and perceived severity of pain. Biological, psychological, social, cultural, and developmental factors can strongly influence the severity of chronic pain and the amount of disability it may cause.

Because there are many components to chronic pain, effective management may require different kinds of treatment. A combination of medication, psychological, and physical techniques may be used to manage the pain.


Lisa Isaac, MD, FRCPC