Children's Hospital Colorado

Easing Your Child's Pain

A close-up of a kid playing with a wooden bead toy.

Fast Fact:

Children often experience different types of pain than adults. The National Pain Foundation cites back pain as the most common type of pain for adults, but children rarely experience back pain.

Watching a child experience pain can be agonizing for a parent. The skilled professionals at Children's Hospital Colorado specialize in delivering compassionate care while making your child as comfortable as possible.

Chemical differences between children and adults, in addition to kids' emotional differences, affect the way children feel pain. As experts in pediatric medicine, the anesthesiology and pain management specialists at Children's work hard to alleviate pain due to major surgeries, chronic illnesses, broken bones and other injuries. Read about anesthesia before surgery.

"In terms of cognitive and physical development, children are completely different from adults, and that affects the way a child experiences pain," said Roxie Foster, PhD, RN, FAAN, Pain Service Co-director and Endowed Chair in Pediatric Nursing at Children's and Professor of Nursing at the University of Colorado Denver College of Nursing. "You have to understand both the physical and emotional pain of an adolescent who is dealing with a chronic condition or major surgery. How do you ask an infant where it hurts? You can't. You have to know what clues to look for, and doing this every day provides the experience needed to make an appropriate diagnosis in a timely manner."

A team approach

Anesthesiologists and pain management specialists work hand-in-hand to assess children and determine proper medications and treatment. Because children don't always have the vocabulary to explain where or how badly they hurt, pain management specialists use facial expressions and picture charts to determine the intensity. Since parents know their children best, they are included in the care process as well.

"We work closely with parents because they are an integral part of everything we do," Dr. Foster said. "They can tell us certain things we should look for, and their participation helps a great deal in determining the child's level of pain and how he or she may react to particular treatments."

Easing pain and worry

Aside from giving smaller doses, many other aspects of administering pain medications - such as anesthesia - are different for children. For example, needles can make children feel nervous or frightened, so children who receive general anesthesia often take a sedative first so needles aren't used until they are asleep. This practice helps children feel more comfortable and can be safer for children who have difficulty remaining calm and stationary around needles.

"At Children's, we have the unique knowledge and experience required to address any problems a child could possibly have," said Randall Clark, MD, anesthesiologist, Interim Chair for the Department of Anesthesiology at Children's and Associate Professor and Head of the Pediatric Anesthesiology Division at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "We realize parents are trusting us with their most precious possessions, and we do everything in our power to make them feel better again."