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How Do You Get Your Child to Become Functional When They Are In Too Much Pain?

So you want to start getting your child more functional and participating in life again but they are NOT on board…. what do you do?

First of all, it makes sense that they would dig in their heels. Who wants to do more when you feel like crap? And who wants to do more when it makes your pain worse?!?! No one. Unless you know that by starting to do more you might actually start to feel better. That is where pain education comes in.

Understanding chronic pain is important not only for you but also for your child. When you get on the same page understanding how chronic pain works, you can get on the same page in how to effectively manage it.

We are used to knowing how to treat regular pain. We are all familiar with what to do when we get a sprained finger. The treatment usually involves some combination of anti-inflammatories, ice, and resting that part of the body until it has healed, or not using it so much. If 3 months go by and the finger is still not healed, then likely we need to start going to physical therapy for rehabilitation to get our finger functional again.

When our kids first start to get pain (migraines, GI issues, CRPS, dizziness, etc.) we often treat it similarly. We start out by giving anti-inflammatories, heat or ice, and letting them rest. Then they don’t get better but we keep using the same strategies. The problem is that we often get stuck in this phase, desperate to find something that will relieve the pain. And the more it hurts, the more they rest. Once their pain has become chronic (3-6 months or more) and we have ruled out any red flags, then it is important for us to move on to the rehabilitation stage.

If pain lasts more than 3 months, likely any tissue damage has healed and the problem is now that the brain continues to send pain signals when the area has healed. The bloodwork comes back normal, the scans look fine, but your child still has pain. Or maybe there are slight abnormalities in the scans but these imbalances shouldn’t be causing this much pain for your child.

The brain can get used to sending pain signals and THAT becomes the problem. Here are a few examples of this….

My daughter’s volleyball coach got a cough. It got worse. It got to the point where she was hacking so much that she couldn’t breathe and would go to the ER. All her tests came back normal and she wasn’t sick. The treatment? Her doctor told her she needed to stop coughing. Her body had gotten in the habit of coughing. It had become a reflex ~ her brain would send the message that there was discomfort in her throat and that would make her cough. The doctor told her that from that point on she was allowed to clear her throat but she couldn’t cough. It was torture for her! But after a couple weeks she wasn’t coughing anymore. So strange!

Another example comes from a neighbor of mine. He had a couple earaches in succession and no amount of antibiotics seemed to help. Eventually, after all the tests came back fine, he was told that he was just used to having the pain and it wasn’t an indication that anything was wrong. His brain was used to sending pain signals to that ear ~ it had become a habit ~ and those signals needed to be retrained.

Does this mean their earache/cough wasn't real and it was all in their heads? Absolutely not. It means that their bodies were producing pain the way any body does. The pain was physical, but there wasn’t tissue damage that needed to be healed so the answer was retraining the pain signals.

Our kids have chronic pain. We have tried the anti-inflammatories, ice/heat and rest and it isn’t getting any better. We have tried medication after medication, specialists, injections, and supplements and they aren’t working. The pain has lasted more than 3 months and has become chronic so our treatment needs to be different. We need to move on to rehabilitation and turning the volume down on those pain signals.

Once you and your child get on the same page understanding chronic pain as pain that can continue even in the absence of tissue damage, then you can start to get on the same page in managing it. However, telling your child that they just need to ignore it and get back to school won’t work. Unless your child is superhuman.

Rehabilitation is a slow, methodical process of increasing function at a pace that doesn’t increase pain flares. And if your child can be reassured that by increasing function, they won’t get more pain, and that by increasing function they can start to decrease their pain flares, then they are often far more willing to take the steps to become more functional.

This is what we do in The Greta Method. Understand pain, set manageable weekly microgoals, and methodically increase your child's ability to increase their function, get back to school, and participate in life again.

Your kids want their lives back. You want their lives back (and yours). Give yourselves the time, the methodical plan, and the support to make it happen.

Go to my website to learn more about The Greta Method and/or book a free call to see if moving on to the stage of chronic pain rehabilitation is a good fit for your child.

~ Carla Friesen

Licensed Psychotherapist, Pain Coach

© 2022

The general contents of this website are provided solely for educational and informational purposes and are not meant to provide professional medical or psychiatric advice, counselling or therapeutic services.

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