Pain, Physical Function Worse in Adolescents Who Have a Parent With Chronic Pain

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Adolescents who have a parent with vs without chronic pain may experience higher levels of pain and reduced physical function.

Adolescents who have a parent with vs without chronic pain may experience higher levels of pain and reduced physical function, according to study results published in the Journal of Pain.

In this longitudinal case-control study, the symptoms and functioning of adolescents who have a parent with chronic pain (CP+) or without chronic pain (CP-) were examined, and pain was monitored in adolescent for 1 year. The effect of gender a moderator of the relationship between child functioning and parental pain status was also examined.

The study included 136 adolescents (age, 11-15 years) who were divided according to whether they did (n=60) or did not have (n=76) a parents receiving medical treatment for a chronic pain condition. Participants were assessed for pain responsivity and physical functioning, and completed a baseline survey on pain characteristics, somatic symptoms, psychosocial functioning (ie, depression, pain catastrophizing, fear avoidance), and physical functioning. After 12 months, participants and their parents were instructed to independently complete a follow-up survey.

Adolescents in the CP+ group reported greater pain frequency, pain intensity, and somatic symptoms at baseline and tested worse on all physical function measures compared with CP- group. They also completed fewer movements in the sit-to-stand task, took longer to complete the 10-meter walk test, and reported worse physical functioning assessed with the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory. Differences in psychosocial functioning were not significant between the 2 groups.

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The gender of adolescents was found to play a considerable role in moderating the relationship between group and somatic symptoms: girls in the CP+ group reported more somatic symptoms compared with boys in that group. Parents from both groups reported similar within-participant effects for pain responsivity and an increase in pain and somatic symptoms at 1 year. However, participants with parents with chronic pain reported worse symptom intensity at both baseline and follow-up.

Study limitations include the fact that the parental cohort predominantly comprised mothers, who have a higher prevalence of chronic pain compared with men, and the fact that pain parameters of parents (type of pain, pain duration, catastrophizing, physical activity, pain interference) were not considered.

“Results highlight the impact of parental chronic pain on adolescent pain and functioning across a number of domains over one year,” noted the study authors. “Youth in the Parent CP- group may be less vulnerable to chronic pain because of higher physical function. Future research should continue to examine physical function as a potential risk or resiliency factor.”

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Wilson AC, Holley AL, Stone A, Fales JL, Palermo TM. Pain, physical and psychosocial functioning in adolescents at-risk for developing chronic pain: a longitudinal case-control study [published online September 5, 2019]. J Pain. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2019.08.009