Understanding the “Epidemic” of ‘Complex Pain’ and How It Affects Adolescents

Rebecca Pitt and Bethany Frank discuss complex pain

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Apr 21, 2021

If undetected, improperly diagnosed or under-treated, the consequences can be debilitating and long-lasting  — for the adolescent population primarily affected —- and their family.

The challenge for many parents and caregivers is recognizing the grey area of a health condition that is anything but black and white.

Complex pain is described by healthcare practitioners as a growing “global epidemic,” affecting about 20 per cent of children and youth with consistent, ongoing pain that lasts for at least three months, and likely longer.

“We usually talk about this as being pain that’s going on beyond an expectable timeline,” says Rebecca Pitt, Clinical Nurse at Montreal Children’s Hospital, during an interview with Where Parents Talk. “There’s also a second part of complex pain that is important to keep in mind. That has to do with how much the pain is impacting the child’s life,” she says.

From headaches to discomfort in the abdominal area, muscles, joints and ligaments, chronic pain can manifest in myriad ways. In addition to physical challenges, it can also trigger psychological, mental, emotional and other issues in children and youth. That in turn could result in school absenteeism, depression, isolation and other challenges.

“To support parents, we want to make sure we’re assessing how the family reacting to this,” says Bethany Frank, Social Worker, Montreal Children’s Hospital, Chronic Pain Clinic. “There’s a grief process that’s involved with having a child that has a chronic medical condition, because it does flip your life upside down. It flips the family home. It’s very turbulent. One parent might be having one reaction, the other parent might have a complete different reaction. And we have to be able to contain that and manage that,” she says.

Montreal Children’s Hospital, a global leader in complex pain treatment and research recently received a $5-million donation to bolster its programming via the newly-renamed Edwards Family Interdisciplinary Centre for Pediatric Complex Pain.

During an interview with Lianne Castelino of Where Parents Talk, both Pitt and Frank, staff members of the hospital’s multi-disciplinary Complex Pain clinic discussed:

  • the impact on families
  • how parents can help detect and support their child with a proper diagnosis
  • how complex pain manifests
  • treatment
  • the ways in which the hospital’s newly-received donation will help expand services related to complex pain

Watch the full video interview:

Related links:

The Montreal Children’s Hospital doubles services for children and teens living with complex pain 


Chronic Pain Management Clinic

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