Consequences of pain

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Read about the long-term consequences of pain on a child, the importance of a child's pain management. A discussion of pain myths is included.

Pain is an unpleasant experience - in some circumstances, overwhelmingly so. But beyond the immediate discomfort, pain, especially if under-treated, can have negative physiological and psychological consequences. Both the body and the brain can be affected permanently by long-term pain.

Pain also interferes with healing. For example, it may be too painful for a child to cough or do physiotherapy thus prolonging the time it takes to return to a normal life.

Physical changes

Chronic pain can lead to physical changes that increase sensitivity to further pain. These physical changes may include:

  • alterations in neurotransmitters that help modulate pain, mood, and sleep
  • a decline in the body's own pain-relieving ability
  • heightened sensitivity to pain after repeated tissue injury

There is evidence that when very young children suffer from prolonged pain, the consequences are even more severe and longer-lasting. For more on the long-term effects of pain, see the "Looking Ahead" section of this site.

Psychological consequences

Pain is not a pleasant experience. Depression, fear of living in pain, and a poorer quality of life often accompany chronic pain in children. Those with chronic pain may suffer disruptions to school, social, and family life, creating anxiety about the future. Pain can interfere with all aspects of a child's life. Combined with the physical changes, the psychological effects of long-term pain may have a negative impact on overall health.

The combined physical and psychological consequences of chronic pain adversely affect overall health and predisposes children toward chronic pain as adults.

Last updated: September 22nd 2009