IWK researchers contribute to first ever Lancet Child and Adolescent Health Commission

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According to the authors of a report released in October the way that pediatric pain is recognised, assessed and treated has gone under the radar for too long. Findings from the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health Commission, the first of its kind to address the issue, suggest that much more needs to be done to help young people by making pain matter across society.

The report includes key contributors and authors with past and present connections to the IWK; Dr. Christine Chambers, Canada Research Chair in Children’s Pain with a lab at the IWK’s Centre for Pediatric Pain Research, Isabel Jordan (and her son, Zach), patient partner on the Comission, who also works in Dr. Chambers’ lab as the strategic lead for patient partnerships, Dr. Katie Birnie a former PhD student who trained in the IWK research lab and completed her pediatric psychology residency at the IWK, and Dr. Paula Forgeron, a former IWK nurse practitioner with the pain team.

The report suggests that change in pediatric services over the past 40 years in terms of pain recognition, diagnosis, assessment and management is slow. The last major intervention in the field came in the 1980s, when, remarkably, for the first time, it was recognized that babies experience pain. Up until that point, a number of routine and major operations, including heart surgery, were carried out without anaesthetics. The authors speculate that much of what we do (or fail to do) for children in pain today might come to be seen as unwise, unacceptable, or unethical in the next 40 years.

“The science of children’s pain has evolved at a very rapid pace over the last 30 years. We now know that managing children’s pain isn’t just a nice thing to do,” says Chambers. “Children experience a range of immediate and long-term negative effects as a result of poorly managed pain in childhood – it can change the way children’s brains and bodies respond to pain, can result in healthcare avoidance, and puts children at risk for later chronic pain and addiction”

In calling for four key goals — to make childhood pain matter, to make it understood, to make it visible and to make it better — the authors argue that there must be a widespread recognition that too many children live with pain and that not enough is being done to support them from diagnosis through to management of long-term conditions. These goals range from “biological (e.g. medication) to psychological treatment/management (e.g. CBT) and to social support (e.g. better support for parents, schools and careers). Achieving these goals would transform the lives of children for they better.

November 1-7 is National Pain Awareness Week.