Pain and learning in primary school: a population-based study

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Despite the frequency of pain among children, little is known about its effects on learning and school outcomes. The objective of this study was to quantify the association of pain and academic achievement while taking into account the presence of co-occurring emotional symptoms. A population-based stratified random sample of 1239 students aged 8 to 9 years from primary schools in Melbourne, Australia, was recruited for the Childhood to Adolescence Transition Study. Children indicated sites of pain that had lasted for a day or longer in the past month using a pain manikin. Depressive- and anxiety-related symptoms were assessed using child-reported items. National assessment results for reading and numeracy were used to measure academic achievement. Sixty-five percent of children reported pain in at least 1 body site and 16% reported chronic pain. Increasing number of pain sites was associated with poorer reading scores in a dose–response fashion (β = −3.1; 95% confidence interval −4.9 to −1.3; P < 0.001). The association was only partly attenuated when adjusting for emotional symptoms (β = −2.6; 95% confidence interval −4.5 to −0.8; P < 0.001) and was not moderated by emotional symptoms. Children with chronic pain were a year behind their peers in both reading and numeracy. Among primary school students, pain was associated with lower reading scores even after adjusting for the presence of emotional symptoms. Although population-based longitudinal studies will be required to ascertain consistency and possible causality, grounds exist for considering pain and emotional symptoms in the assessment of children with reading difficulties.

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