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Pain in children: Learning about assessing pain in children

Pain in Children

Learning about assessing pain in children

Pain can happen for so many different reasons and is not simple. It can change over time. The best treatment for your child’s pain will depend on many things, including if their pain is acute or chronic.

Acute pain can happen because of an injury or when a child is having a medical procedure, such as getting a needle. Acute pain usually lasts for a few hours or days.

Chronic pain lasts for more than 3 months and can be caused by specific conditions like arthritis or Crohn’s disease. But sometimes, the exact medical reason for chronic pain can’t be found.

No matter what kind of pain your child has, it’s important to understand and measure their pain. This helps make sure that they can get the best pain treatment.

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about where the pain is, how strong it is, and how long they’ve had it. A pain scale is often used to measure the level of your child’s pain. Once your child’s healthcare provider has measured this, they’ll be able to treat the pain better.

Treating your child’s acute pain may include:

  • numbing creams put on the skin before painful medical procedures (like getting a needle)
  • pain medicines
  • distraction with books, music, or games
  • heat or ice packs
  • massage or physiotherapy

Treating your child’s chronic pain may include:

  • distraction with books, music, or games
  • heat or ice packs
  • massage or physiotherapy
  • psychological therapy (ways to cope that are developed with a psychologist)
  • pain medicines are sometimes needed

The goal of managing your child’s acute pain should be to lessen their pain, even if it can’t go away completely. If your child has chronic pain, it’s not always possible to make the pain completely go away. When helping your child with chronic pain, the goal is improving how much your child can do. This means making sure that they feel good going to school, playing sports, seeing their friends, and sleeping well.

How will my child’s pain be measured?

It’s always best if your child can tell their healthcare provider directly how much pain they have. Sometimes your child can’t do this. For example, if they’re too young to talk or are non-verbal because of a disability. If this is the case, your child’s healthcare provider will likely ask you to tell them about your child’s pain, since you know your child best.

For acute pain, your child’s healthcare provider may use a pain scale to help measure your child’s pain. The scale they choose will be based on your child’s age and ability to talk about their pain.

For children under 4 years old or who are non-verbal, the FLACC scale may be used. If this scale is used, your child’s healthcare provider will be measuring your child’s pain by looking at:

  • facial expressions
  • the position of their legs
  • how active they are
  • if they’re crying,
  • if they can be calmed down

For children between 4 and 12 years old, the Faces Pain Scale (Revised) may be used. This scale has 6 faces that show how much something can hurt. Your child will choose the face that shows how much pain they have.

FACES Pain Scale – Revised (FPS-R) ©2001, International Association for the Study of Pain

For children older than 6 years of age, the Verbal Numerical Rating Scale may be used. If this scale is used, your child will be asked to choose a number from 0 to 10 that best describes their pain. In this scale, 0 is no pain and 10 is the worst pain they can imagine.

There are many other types of pain scales that may be used depending on your child’s age, ability to communicate, and level of development.

If your child has chronic pain, their healthcare provider will be thinking about both the rating of the pain and how your child’s pain affects their life. Things that your child’s healthcare provider might ask your child about include:

  • school attendance
  • what activities they can do
  • how they’re sleeping
  • how they’re coping with their pain emotionally

How can I measure my child’s pain at home?

It’s important that you continue to monitor your child’s pain on a regular basis once you’re home.

If your child had surgery, you can use a scale called the Parents’ Postoperative Pain Measure. With this scale, you answer yes or no to 15 questions about your child. If you answer yes to more than 6 questions, your child may be having serious pain and needs to have that pain taken care of.

Another newer pain scale that you can try using is called the Stoplight Pain Scale. You can use this scale to ask your child how they’re feeling and if they think they need pain medicine to help make their pain better.

If your child has chronic pain, ask your healthcare provider for information on how to measure your child’s pain at home.

If you have any other questions about how to measure or treat your child’s pain at home, ask your healthcare provider.

To see this information online and learn more, visit MyHealth.Alberta.ca/health/pages/conditions.aspx?Hwid=custom.ab_pain_assessment_inst_child.

Related to Pain in Children

For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.

Current as of: April 15, 2021

Author: Solutions for Kids in Pain, Alberta Health Services

Care instructions may be adapted by your healthcare provider. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, talk with your doctor or appropriate healthcare provider.