Chronic pain in children, teens called a 'silent epidemic'
Alberta Children's Hospital hopes to raise awareness so more youth get the help they need
An increasing number of kids suffer from chronic pain, says an Alberta Children's Hospital physician.
"I really refer to it as a silent epidemic," says Dr. Nivez Rasic.
Five to eight per cent of Canadian children suffer from severe chronic pain, according to Rasic.
She says that number is growing and most kids don't receive the clinical services they need to get better. Younger children often can't communicate their discomfort, she says, and teens struggle with stigmas or have conditions compounded by mental health concerns.
Workshop held for parents and kids
To raise awareness of resources, the hospital held a workshop Thursday for parents and kids to meet with physicians and psychologists who specialise in pediatric pain.
The hospital's also holding a conference called Pain in Child Health (PICH2Go) on Friday for hospital clinicians and researchers to network and share research findings.
"I want parents to know that if you have a child that is suffering from chronic pain and it's starting to impact their life, that there is help out there," Rasic says. "Please don't let it go untreated."
Teen with chronic pain
Riah Schuh, 18, has been in long-term rehabilitation since suffering a rugby injury a few years ago. She says teens with chronic pain not only struggle with the physical discomfort, but also with stereotypes.
"When you hear about people with chronic pain, you often think about old folks…with their walkers and wheelchairs," she says. "And we often forget how many young people are affected by chronic pain."
She still considers herself an athlete and says the hospital's intensive rehabilitation program for teens has helped her set new expectations for what her body can do.
Schuh participated in the hospital's multi-week intensive pain and rehabilitation program, the only one of its kind for youth.
It's a holistic program where teens are treated with physiotherapy and learn exercises to do at home, receive professional counselling and do arts and music therapy.
The goal is to help the patients get their body function back to being able to do what most teens normally can, Rasic says.
Since attending the program, Schuh says she's less stressed about her condition.
"It's had a huge impact on my life," she says. "Just having those learning strategies and having ways to handle your pain is a huge thing."
And, she says, she valued the chance to meet other young people like her, who know what she's going through.
With files from Kate Adach