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Pain in children

Acute pain

Acute pain is short-term pain that starts quickly. Sometimes acute pain is caused by an injury, such as a cut or broken bone, or an illness, such as a sore throat or an ear infection.

Acute pain can also happen when your child has a medical procedure or test, such as getting a vaccine, having blood taken, or getting stitches.

Remember that every child is different and feels pain in their own way, so be patient and gentle with your child to help them feel better.

Treatments for your child's acute pain may include things that help your child's body, things that help their mind, and medicines.

Pain from injury or illness

Take your child to a doctor if:

  • They have very bad pain and nothing is helping.
  • The injury is not healing or is infected.
  • Their illness is not getting better with treatment.

Pain from many minor injuries and mild illnesses can be managed at home. For some injuries, you can use an ice pack on the area to help your child feel better and have less pain. After a few days of ice, using a heat pack can help with pain from muscle spasms.

If skin is wounded—such as with a cut, scrape, burn, or scratch—carefully wash the area to clean out any dirt or debris, then cover it with a bandage, which can help with pain. You can wrap injuries such as strains or sprains.

If your child has pain from an illness, such as a sore throat, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to manage their pain.

Pain during medical procedures

If your child is having a medical procedure, such as a blood test or stitches, there are ways you can help them be calm and have less pain.

For babies:

  • Breastfeed your baby during the procedure.
  • Offer your baby a pacifier (if they use one) during the procedure.
  • Give oral sucrose (sugar) or sucrose drops to your baby just before and during a medical procedure. The sweet taste sends signals to the brain to reduce pain. Sucrose drops are only for medical procedures—never use sucrose drops at home to calm a crying baby.

If your toddler or older child is having a procedure, you can hold them in a comfort position. There are different comfort positions that you can use depending on your child's age and what procedure they are having. Ask your healthcare provider what position to try.

Routine immunizations (vaccines) can also cause stress and pain. There are many things you can do to help your child during immunization to make it a better experience.

Ways to calm your child's mind

Children can get very upset when they have acute pain. There are ways to help your child calm down, feel less afraid, and stop focusing on the pain.


Helping your child focus on their breathing can be useful. Teach them belly breathing with easy, slow, deep breaths in and out. Do the breathing together.


Distraction techniques can help to move your child's attention away from their pain.

For babies and toddlers, distraction ideas can include singing and talking or using items such as toys, pictures books, or bubbles. You can bring your own items or ask your healthcare provider if the clinic or hospital offers any.

For school-aged children and teens, you can use books, videos, or video games as distraction. Mind exercises (such as counting back from 100), talking about favourite memories, or focusing on an object can also help distract your child from their pain.

Guided imagery

Older children can try guided imagery to redirect their attention away from pain. Have your child use their imagination to see pleasant and calming pictures in their mind, using as many senses as possible.

You can use guided imagery along with other relaxation techniques, such as muscle relaxation, to help your child.

Medicines for acute pain


Over-the-counter pain medicines can help manage acute pain in the short term. They can help with fever, swelling, aches, and pains. These medicines include acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin). Always follow the directions on the package, and ask your pharmacist if you aren't sure what medicine to give your child or how much to give them.

Some children find it hard to take medicines. You can try these tips to help your child take medicine.


If your child has an infection caused by bacteria, your doctor might prescribe other medicines, such as antibiotics, to help fight the cause and stop the pain. Make sure your child takes all their medicine as directed.

Short-acting opioids

Broken bones and emergency problems (such as appendicitis) that are treated at a hospital can be very painful. So can some procedures—such as a dressing change for a burn.

For moderate to very bad pain, short-acting opioids may be added to your child's care plan. Examples of opioids are morphine, fentanyl, and oxycodone.

Your doctor will talk to you about any risks and benefits of opioids. They can be safe for children at the right doses and when given the right way.

Preventing acute pain

You can do many things to help your child's acute pain from injury, illness, or medical procedures.

Pain from illness or injury

Acute pain from injuries and illnesses is common in children. To protect your child, you can take precautions such as:

  • Teaching your child proper handwashing.
  • Making sure your child wears the right helmet when they ride their bike, scooter, or skateboard.
  • Using gates ​at the ends of stairs for babies and toddlers.
  • Watching over your child when they are playing.

See a doctor for emergencies and when you have any questions about how to manage your child's pain.

To learn more about preventing injuries in children, see the following links or enter “child safety" into the search box:

Pain from medical procedures

With medical procedures, it's important to stop pain before it starts. There are different things you can try, depending on your child's age and the procedure they are having:

  • Topical anesthetic cream, also called numbing cream, numbs your child's skin so they feel less pain for a procedure. There are many different kinds. Ask your pharmacist, nurse, or doctor what might work and how to use it.
  • Vapo-coolant freezing sprays can sometimes be helpful for short procedures such as getting a vaccine. They are not as well studied as numbing creams.
  • Lubricant gels with lidocaine can help for procedures such as bladder catheterization or nasogastric tube insertion.
  • Your healthcare provider may use nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, if your child has a lot of anxiety or stress about a procedure. It's easy to give and starts working quickly.
  • You can ask your healthcare team to group tests together or do more than 1 procedure at the same time so your child has less pain and stress overall.

Ask your child's healthcare team about how to prevent pain during a procedure.​​​​

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