Photo of a teenage girl looking out the window
Young girls are more prone to chronic pain; but in all children it can lead to depression and anxiety

Chronic pain syndromes in adolescents on the rise

15 December, 2011

Natural Health News — Chronic headaches, back pain, stomach aches – these are the kinds of conditions we associated with getting older. But new research suggests chronic pain is becoming increasingly common in children.

Canadian researchers have recently undertaken a systematic review of 20 years worth of research data about headache, abdominal pain, back pain, musculoskeletal pain, combined pain, and general pain in children – 32 studies in all.

The results which are published in the medical journal Pain show that most types of pain are more prevalent in girls than in boys, though the factors that influence this gender difference are not entirely clear. Rates of chronic pain also tend to increase with age, but also with levels of  anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and low socioeconomic status.

Approximately 23% of children ages 7 to 18 report having weekly headaches and 5% report having daily headaches.

Other types of pain, i.e. abdominal pain, back pain, musculoskeletal pain, and pain combinations, were less frequently studied than headache so getting a clear picture of how common they are was difficult, say the researchers.

However, the overall results showed that these types of pain are worryingly common in children and adolescents, affecting anywhere  from 11% to 38%. For example, around 12% have recurrent abdominal pain, and 21% report having back pain for at least a month.

What is more , comparing these results to a baseline study undertaken by the same team in 1991, the found that rates of chronic pain in children had risen significantly.

Children who suffer from persistent or recurring chronic pain may miss school, withdraw from social activities, and are at risk of developing  symptoms such as anxiety, in response to their pain.

The authors argue that there is a  generally poor accounting and understanding of pain in children – current studies for instance do not  probe why chronic pain develops in children – and that doctors must become more aware of this growing problems and of the long-term consequences of chronic pain in children.

Although this study only looked superficially at the causes of chronic pain, from a natural health perspective it’s worth noting that exposure to different kinds of environmental toxins can lead to chronic pain syndromes in adults and may well also be affecting our children, whose bodies are smaller and absorb more of these substances.

Heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic, aluminium and cadmium can lead to an arrhythmia, which can greatly affect chronic pain, nerve damage, as well as decreased red and/or white blood cell production (and thus poor immunity).

Pesticides, which can be inhaled or ingested through some of the foods we eat, can produce symptoms of nerve pain, sensitivity, numbness, tingling, burning, Pesticides have been shown to increase risk for certain cancers, Parkinson’s disease, birth defects and neurological damage. A healthy nervous system is essential for regulating blood flow, breathing, and ultimately pain management.

Volatile organic compounds commonly found in water, cleaning solutions, paints and varnishes, some cosmetics, air fresheners, perfumes and deodorants, not only pollute the air but can cause eye and respiratory problems, impaired memory, and extreme headaches and migraines. Exposure to VOCs  can trigger disorders such as fibromyalgia, repetitive strain disorder, nerve pain, arthritis, or migraines.

In light of this, cleaning up our environment may be an effective way to help keep our children pain free.