You might not know it to look at them but teenagers are suffering more chronic pain than we ever realized before. Thanks to this study of over 7,000 participants, we know that 44 per cent of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 report chronic idiopathic pain. At least that's the case in Norway where the study was conducted,
Chronic idiopathic pain was defined as pain anywhere in the body of unknown cause that was present at least once a week for the last three months. Idiopathic means there's been no known injury, disease, or other cause of the pain. The authors of the study point out that not all experts agree this is the most accurate or best way to define chronic pain. But it was a starting point in gathering information for the study.
A study like this helps identify how prevalent (common) is a problem like pain. By asking questions about difficulties sleeping, sitting, walking, exercising, and completing daily tasks, the investigators were also able to get an idea of how much pain impacts the lives of these young people.
Let's see what they found. We already mentioned there was a high percentage of teens who reported chronic pain. One-fourth of those children had pain in at least two places (e.g., headaches, neck and/or shoulder pain, stomach pain, other muscle or joint pain). More than half the children (58.5 per cent) judged themselves to have trouble completing daily tasks.
Ten per cent of the group said they have pain every single day. Girls had more pain than boys and the number of girls affected increased as they got older. The location of the pain reported by girls was most often the head (migraines) and abdomen (stomach ache). Younger children of either sex were more likely to say they had leg pain. Headaches combined with neck and shoulder pain was the most common pain pattern reported by everyone no matter what age or sex they were.
This isn't the first study to take a look at pain reported by children. Others have studied this problem and found that chronic pain in teens has a negative social, financial, and psychologic impact on this group. Many go on into adulthood still affected by their pain problem.
Now that the high prevalence of chronic pain in youngsters has been confirmed, research is needed to identify the cause and find ways to prevent or eliminate the problem and the pain. The authors do point out that compared with studies conducted in Europe, Norway seems to have more people experiencing chronic pain.
There may be lifestyle risk factors or psychosocial factors present but as yet undetermined. These risk factors could be just typical of Norwegians or they could represent teens of all ages in all countries. More study is needed to look for differences geographically and based on economy, culture, availability of health services, or some other risk factors. The identification of any risk factors will help guide us all in protecting our children from a distressing problem like chronic pain.
Reference: Gry Børmark Hoftun, et al. Chronic Idiopathic Pain in Adolescence - High Prevalence and Disability: The Young HUNT Study 2008. In PAIN. October 2011. Vol. 152. No. 10. Pp. 2259-2266.