Research has shown that the best pain management combines many different techniques, considering the effect of pain on body, mind, and spirit. The combination that’s best will depend on your child’s specific pain condition and needs. Because chronic pain often changes over time, it’s a good idea to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t on a regular schedule.
While it’s hard to predict what will work best for your child, effective pain management often includes approaches from these 3 categories:
- Self-care strategies. These may be the most important, because they’re free, you can do them on your own, and they can make other treatments more effective. Examples include balancing rest and activity, exercising, and reducing stress.
- Medical treatments that focus on the body. These include physical therapy, injections, medication, exercise, and stretching.
- Treatments that focus on the mind-body connection. These can include psychotherapy or training in mind-body strategies, such as meditation.
Pain management aims to reduce your child’s level of pain and minimize its effect on their life, so they can do more of the things that make life meaningful and enjoyable. Working with your child’s healthcare provider, pain management main involve
- An assessment. Your child’s doctor will gather information on their pain and other conditions that may affect pain.
- A management plan. You, your child, and the doctor will work together to create a plan based on the goals you and your child set. It will include medical treatments and other strategies that will be used to help manage your child’s pain.
- Follow-up. In follow-up appointments, your child’s doctor will check how well these strategies are working and change the management plan as needed.
- Self-help activities. There’s an important role for you to play, because effective pain management often involves things you do at home. It’s vital that you as well as your child take an active approach to managing the pain.
- Time and persistence. Chronic pain management is like a journey that can take many turns as you and your child try different approaches and find out what works best. It can mean learning new skills — and discovering strengths.
Your child’s pain can be affected by many things — stress, certain activities, relationship issues, school or work, and more. And it’s different for every person. Your doctor records a pain snapshot at each appointment, but only you or your child can track it day by day to discover its patterns.
Tracking pain along with your child’s activity, sleep, and other factors can help you together identify pain triggers — things that spark increased pain. Once you know what they are, your child can avoid, change, or plan ahead for them if they’re unavoidable. You may know some of your child’s triggers already, but tracking may help you identify more and will give you a better picture of how these triggers work. Tracking might also give you insight into which activities are the best for “taming” your child’s pain, such as:
- Getting better sleep
- Exercising and being as active as possible
- Getting proper nutrition
- Managing stress
- Changing unhealthy thought patterns
- Doing physical therapy
- Taking medicine or doing other activities prescribed by your child’s doctor
- Talking to a social worker, counselor, or psychiatrist
- Trying alternative therapies, such as chiropractic, massage therapy, or acupressure
- Doing things with friends or something they enjoy
Your child’s doctor will make specific recommendations for pain management based on your child’s situation.
As a caregiver, having someone you love suffer with chronic pain affects you as well. You might be anxious or sad about your child’s pain. You might have taken on new responsibilities to meet your family’s needs as a result of your child’s needs when in pain.
Chronic pain can also lead to family money problems and other sources of stress. In the midst of these challenges, you need to take good care of yourself by:
- Reaching out for support. Don’t let your worries build up inside.
- Talking to friends, a spiritual advisor, or your healthcare provider.
- Not neglecting your health. Get a good night’s sleep, eat a healthy diet, find times for exercise and activity, and find ways to manage stress.
- Keeping a sense of balance. Your child’s pain is real, and it’s easy to feel you need to do everything you can to “pick up the slack.” But taking over too many responsibilities isn’t a good idea. It can keep your child from being active and actually increase their pain over time.
As you and your child try different methods of pain management, you will find some methods work better than others. Your child may also find new strengths and abilities. Focus on the treatments that are getting positive results, and encourage your child to keep doing those things that help them feel better.
If you notice symptoms getting worse, talk to your child’s doctor or healthcare provider to change treatments as necessary. If you think your child has depression, bring that up with their doctor. Help your child manage their symptoms by following the treatment plan. Encourage them to be positive and hopeful.
If your child has a disease or condition that requires regular checkups, stay on top of appointments with their provider. Your child’s doctor will give recommendations for treatments and therapies to help your child’s specific situation.
With chronic pain or discomfort, you may need to frequently check in with your child’s healthcare providers, especially if certain treatments become less effective over time.
To understand how to manage chronic pain, it’s helpful to look first at what pain is and how it works. Pain is a signal passed along by nerve cells, cells designed to send messages. Nerve cells throughout your body can send pain signals to your brain by way of the spinal cord. Short-term pain from an injury — like stubbing your toe — is called “acute pain.” Acute pain is your body’s awareness that you’re wounded or ill. Chronic (ongoing) pain is more complex.
With chronic pain, the signal is no longer useful — the pain is “old news.” Long after an injury or illness is healed, the nerves keep sending the alarm. Or, a chronic illness causes ongoing pain that can’t be resolved.
The brain can sometimes begin to send and receive its own pain signals even if there is no illness or injury. Altered or damaged nerves can keep sending pain signals, even after an illness or injury heals. A chronic illness (such as fibromyalgia), a spinal problem (such as sciatica), or scar tissue may continue despite treatment, causing ongoing pain.
Pain management aims to lessen pain and its effects so that your child can live as active and normal a life as possible. Your child’s doctor can help recommend treatment and therapies that fit your child’s specific situation.