It’s been two months, 12 days, and approximately nine hours since my youngest daughter’s back last seized up. As any parent of a kid who lives with chronic or recurring pain can tell you, those moments between flares ups are a welcome reprieve. They are also – sadly - filled with stress from wondering when the pain will return, how it will return, and how you will help your child manage the pain when it inevitably does return.
A little over two years ago, my then 11-year-old daughter injured her back tumbling. We hoped she would recover quickly, but instead her injury only seemed to worsen; often leaving her crying in her room from the pain. The triggers for what would lay her up in bed were unpredictable; once it was a trying to do a pull-up in gym, but another she was simply walking down the hall at school. The result? Over 45 days of missed school last year.
For a kid who was active and athletic, it seemed cruel that she could no longer do the simplest things. For me, it was an exercise in frustration; nothing seemed to work. We tried physiotherapy, massage therapy, over-the-counter pain medication, ice, heat, and an inversion table. We went for countless appointments for MRI’s, X-rays, and specialists. This summer we started doing yoga together to help her strengthen her core muscles and to help her manage pain should she have a relapse. Just last week, we finally started going on short runs together. It’s been a long journey.
As someone who has been involved with the amazing #itdoesnthavetohurt program from the beginning, I was lucky enough to know some great pain management techniques. I was surprised to find out then that I had been missing a crucial bit of information until YMC did a Facebook Live with Dr. Christine Chambers. In that discussion, I mentioned all the struggles Ava was having and Dr. Chambers mentioned I should get her an appointment at a Pain Clinic.
Stop the presses.
Two years I’d been working on this program, helping to spread the word about pain management techniques for kids and I didn’t know there was a Pain Clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario? Apparently, I had a lot more to learn, so I dove in a little deeper.
Here are some things I think all parents of kids who live with chronic pain should know.
I know we want to think of boys and girls as equal in every way, but when it comes to pain, they aren’t. Girls are more likely than boys to be sensitive to acute pain, and are much more likely than boys to develop chronic pain, like headaches and stomach pain. Most surprising to me was that girls tend to develop chronic pain issues around puberty.
In what I felt would be news to no one, the science indicates that Dads are better at assessing pain than moms and less likely to “catastrophize” when their child is in pain. This one made me laugh out loud, because yes, I have gone to Defcon 1 more than once when a child was in pain.
But don’t start gloating yet, guys.
The studies also suggest that when children are in pain, Dads tend to say more critical things than Moms. Moms, on the other hand, tend to talk more about things not focused on their child’s pain symptoms. Distraction, by the way, is a very effective way to manage pain in children and it looks like moms inherently know that.
All of this to say: the more knowledge we have about how we react to pain in our children, the more we can all try a more balanced approach. Our behaviour around our kids can either positively or negatively affect their pain experience. Since I’ve learned this, I’ve made a conscious effort to dial back my tendency to freak out when my daughter is in extreme pain.
The time from when a scientific study concludes to when the information trickles down to parents can take up to 17 years. This is an unacceptable lag time to get the information into the hands of the people who need it most. The Centre for Pediatric Pain Research and the #itdoesnthavetohurt program is working to change that. I believe every parent should have this website bookmarked on their computer from the time their first child is born. It contains a wealth of information on everything from managing first needles to chronic pain to serious childhood illnesses. You can also follow the hashtag on social media for the latest findings on pediatric pain.
For parents with kids who live with chronic pain, arming yourself with the latest scientific information is one of the most important things you can do to help your child.