The study provides valuable insights into how young people understand chronic pain

whether it be a headache, Stomach acheUp to a third of young people in Australia suffer from chronic pain, or severe joint pain.

The study provides valuable insights into how young people understand chronic pain

Image credit: University of South Australia

Now, A.J The first study in the world from the University of South Australia provides valuable insights into how young people can understand chronic pain, which could help thousands of sufferers better manage their symptoms and their long-term well-being.

Understanding what young people think about pain can help debunk pain myths and identify new treatment pathways, says lead researcher and pain expert Dr. Hayley Lake of UniSA.

What people think about where the pain comes from is important, but unhelpful beliefs about pain can keep people from getting the best care.

Optimal care for chronic pain includes movement and psychotherapy. However, these treatments may seem counterintuitive if you think your pain means tissue damage.

If we can identify what young people think about pain, we can learn which beliefs are helpful and which aren’t. Then we can use this knowledge to provide better pain education to young people, so they understand why they should engage in the best treatments. “

Dr. Hayley Lake, Onissa

The study was conducted as part of a larger observational study (children ages 11-17), with long-term interview follow-up (six years later) of those young adults with a history of chronic pain in childhood. Of the original group, 229 completed the six-year follow-up study, and 189 (82.5 percent) still reported existing chronic pain.

The researchers found that young people tend to understand chronic pain by explaining it as follows:

  • Something wrong with their body
  • associated with an unhealed injury
  • Connected to “firing” nerves when they shouldn’t
  • Associated with excessive stress system

Leake says while some subjects provide helpful ways of thinking about pain, others pick up on misconceptions about how pain works that can create barriers to their access to treatment.

“It is important to challenge beliefs about pain that are inconsistent with modern pain science,” says Dr. Lake.

“In this study we can see that some young people believe that pain means that their body has an unresolved tissue injury. This is not necessarily the case, as pain can persist when nerves become hypersensitive, even though body tissue is not injured.”

“One way we show this to young people is by comparing chronic pain to computer problems — the problem is with the software, not the hardware.

“Replacing unhelpful beliefs about pain with helpful ones is an important part of recovery. In our study, some young men were able to describe helpful beliefs that linked chronic pain to an altered nervous system and stress.

“By learning about the biology of pain, nerve oversensitivity, and the role of stress, we can help people understand why stress management therapies can help, and why exercise is a good idea.

“Teaching teens and young adults — as well as their parents and caregivers — about chronic pain, and talking to them in words and phrases they use and understand, is a first step to change.

“We know that when adults with chronic pain learn about pain, they improve more than those who do not learn about pain, and that they find pain education valuable.

“By increasing awareness and understanding of chronic pain, we hope to better support adolescents and young adults, so that they receive the care and support they need to live their lives to the fullest.”

The researchers are now working on creating an awareness-raising toolkit to share on social media and hopefully in schools.


Journal reference:

Lake, HB, et al. (2023) How does pain work? A qualitative analysis of how young people with chronic pain perceive the biology of pain. European Journal of Pain.

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