Pain Management for Children with Cerebral Palsy

Although children affected by Cerebral Palsy can have varied experiences with the condition (i.e., some may be able to walk but not be able to use one arm or the other while others may not have any functionality in any of their arms or limbs), pain seems to be an experience shared by many children impacted by Cerebral Palsy. The Cerebral Palsy Alliance estimates that approximately three out of every four children diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy will experience pain.

Knowing that their children are more likely than not experiencing pain can be quite discomforting for parents of children with Cerebral Palsy. Because Cerebral Palsy cannot be cured, parents may feel hopeless. However, understanding the causes of pain in children with Cerebral Palsy as well as the ways that some of this pain can be managed.

A Few Words About Pain

First, it must be remembered that pain is an intensely personal experience. Pain that is minor or tolerable to one person may be overwhelming and debilitating to another person. This is true even where the two individuals are afflicted by the same condition. Thus, even though three out of every four children might experience pain related to their Cerebral Palsy, this does not mean that all three of these children will experience the same level, intensity, and/or duration of pain.

Secondly, a child with Cerebral Palsy can suffer pain both as the result of medical procedures and therapy (which should dissipate with time) as well as pain tied to the child’s spasticity. Pain associated with Cerebral Palsy is more of a concern than pain associated with medical procedures and treatments, although pain management should seek to minimize both types of pain.

Methods of Pain Management

Depending on the type of pain afflicting a child, there are several different ways in which the child’s Cerebral Palsy-related pain can be managed:

  • Surgical intervention: Spasticity or continuous muscle contraction can cause pain, either because the affected muscles are always tensed or because the muscles pull on bones and joints, causing bone deformities and joint dislocations. Surgery may be able to assist in these types of situations by relaxing the muscles that are contracted or making it so the muscles do not pull on the bone or joint with such intensity.
  • Therapy: Spasticity causes a reduction in a joint’s range of motion, which can cause pain. Physical and/or occupational therapy may be able to help restore some range of motion to the affected joint. Therapy can also help alleviate some of the pain associated with sitting for long periods of time.
  • Medication: Children may be prescribed medications to help in temporarily alleviating the pain they may be experiencing. It is crucial for parents to follow dosage instructions carefully and give the medication only as prescribed – giving a child an overdose of certain medications (even if done unintentionally or because the child appears to be in a significant amount of pain) can be dangerous or even deadly for the child.
  • Psychological therapy: In cases where the cause of the child’s pain may be difficult to detect or treat, the child may find relief through psychological services. In general, psychological treatment for pain is only likely to be beneficial for children who are older and who have attempted to treat their pain through more conventional avenues.

Pain management involves speaking regularly with your child’s doctor(s) and other specialists about your values as well as your child’s experiences with pain and relief from pain. By doing so, you can help your child effectively limit the amount of pain his or her Cerebral Palsy causes him or her.

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