Fear of pain in children and adolescents with neuropathic pain and complex regional pain syndrome

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Abstract

A significant proportion of children and adolescents with chronic pain endorse elevated pain-related fear. Pain-related fear is associated with high levels of disability, depressive symptoms, and school impairment. Because of faulty nerve signaling, individuals with neuropathic pain and complex regional pain syndrome may be more prone to develop pain-related fear as they avoid use of and neglect the affected body area(s), resulting in exacerbated symptoms, muscle atrophy, maintenance of pain signaling, and ongoing pain-related disability. Not surprisingly, effective treatments for elevated pain-related fears involve exposure to previously avoided activities to downregulate incorrect pain signaling. In the context of intensive interdisciplinary pain treatment of youth with neuropathic pain, decreasing pain-related fear is associated with improved physical and psychological functioning, whereas high initial pain-related fear is a risk factor for less treatment responsiveness. An innovative approach to targeting pain-related fear and evidence of a neural response to treatment involving decoupling of the amygdala with key fear circuits in youth with complex regional pain syndrome suggest breakthroughs in our ability to ameliorate these issues.

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