Is it growing pains, or something more sinister?

Posted on 5 March 2018

Paediatric pain could indicate that your child has a medical condition, but how can you tell growing pains from chronic or episodic pain arising from a medical condition?

‘Paediatric pain is often under-recognised and undertreated,’ says Dr Sean Chetty, a specialist anaesthesiologist and pain clinician at Mediclinic Panorama. ‘All too often, pain in children is brushed off as “growing pains,” as they are not disabled by the condition.’

Chronic pain in children has several potential causes. Biological, psychological and sociocultural factors all play a role. ‘Some children have untreated acute pain while others have symptoms of learned pain behaviour or psychiatric illnesses, such as depression. A family history of chronic pain may contribute to the condition,’ says Dr Chetty.

Dr Chetty goes on to distinguish between the two types of chronic pain associated with children.

‘Firstly, there is persistent and recurring (episodic) pain associated with an underlying health condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease, sickle cell disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Then there is pain that stems from the disorder itself: primary headaches, centrally mediated abdominal pain syndrome, musculoskeletal pain and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) all fall into this category. A number of children suffer from both types, and this is termed as “chronic-on-acute” pain.’

While it is difficult to outline a general management solution for each condition, treatment should take a multidisciplinary approach and consider the patient as a whole. And, as Chetty adds, it is all about the individual.

‘Treatment should encompass a biological, psychological and social approach,’ he says. ‘While a medication and interventional pain treatment generally forms part of most programmes, it is seldom the final cure.’


In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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