Children with chronic pain less sensitive to pain after pain education

Children with chronic pain less sensitive to pain after pain education

VUB-Researcher develops useful tool for healthcare providers

One fifth of Belgians suffer from chronic pain for which no clear cause can be found. Previous scientific research by the VUB research group Pain in Motion, led by Prof Jo Nijs, has already shown that adult patients experience less pain when they understand what pain is and how it arises. PhD research by Roselien Pas conducted with UAntwerpen and under the supervision of Prof Kelly Ickmans now shows that such education also works in children who are suffering from persistent pain.

Alarm system

Pain usually occurs when a nerve in our body is stimulated and sends a signal to the brain that something is wrong, for example in the event of a fall or a cut. In chronic pain patients, however, the nervous system constantly sends such messages to the brain, even when physiologically or anatomically nothing is wrong (anymore) and the danger has passed. This is the result of an oversensitive nervous system.

“You could compare such a hypersensitive nervous system with an alarm system that is too sensitive and sometimes goes off for no apparent reason. Factors such as stress, anxiety or a build-up of emotions amplify these alarm signals even more, causing patients to experience even more pain,” explains Prof Ickmans.

Tailored for kids

Pain education is a proven treatment method in adult pain patients. Patients receive explanations about what pain is, how it occurs and what factors contribute. To find out whether this approach also works in children, Dr Pas conducted an experiment with 28 children between the ages of 6 and 12 years with chronic nonspecific abdominal pain. Half of the participants and their parents received a standard treatment, in which a nurse explained the digestive system, the influence of stress on the complaints and breathing exercises. The other half received additional explanations about pain.

The study showed that children who were taught about pain were less sensitive to pain in the weeks after the experiment. In addition, they were less inhibited in their daily school, family, social and recreational activities and experienced less fear of pain. This also had an impact on their parents, who worried less about their child’s pain. 

“Constant pain has a major impact on a child’s life and development: they miss out on hobbies and parties with friends, but also lessons, which means they underperform at school. It also weighs heavily on parents who often search for a long time and in vain for doctors who have an explanation and solution for their child’s complaints,” says Prof Ickmans. “The fact that we can now also help these patients with this therapy and thus provide them with a better quality of life is definitely an important step forward. I would also like to call on all healthcare providers to put more effort into pain education, because this is a crucial part of care for chronic pain that is all too often forgotten. They can use the PNE4kids manual that Roselien Pas developed as a guide in the context of her PhD.” Dr Pas carried out the research as part of her PhD in rehabilitation sciences and physical therapy.   

For more information:

Kelly Ickmans

Research group Pain in Motion (VUB)

Mobile number via press officer – Lies Feron 0484 590 550


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