Help! My kid is in pain! How do I talk about it with him or her? (Part 2)

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It is not fun for anyone when kids, ‘tweens, or teens have pain. In an age group whose sole responsibility is learning, play, and exploration, pain can really get in the way of these things sometimes.

My favorite line is “My kid (or my friend’s) ’tween/teen hurts! What does this mean and what do we do about it?

In case you missed Part 1 of this blog series, I outlined what it means and why kids have pain. Since you’re probably proactive like me (otherwise, why would you be reading this?), let’s move on to “what to do about it.”

First and foremost-it is essential to give kids the opportunity to describe pain in based on their established communication skills. As mentioned in Part 1, many kids simply agree with what adults tell them to say about pain, while others learn metaphors of describing pain that don’t agree with their age or experience level. Example: the 11 year old who states her knee pain is “bone on bone” feeling. She’s too young to be using that metaphor appropriately. Most confusingly–some kids are too young to understand metaphors or communicate about their pain at all.

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Keep it age-appropriate:

  • Very young kids (ages 0-3): Pay attention to body language, behavior, play activity, and body mechanics. It is less likely that kids in this age group will misinterpret pain or use it as “manipulation” to get something they want. They also will be less likely to discuss it in any detail with an adult. Use the FLACC pain scale to quantify your observations.

    this scale is commonly used in babies and toddlers who cannot communicate their feelings. It is also used in other older patients who may have conditions that challenge their ability to communicate with caregivers.

    This scale is commonly used in babies and toddlers who cannot communicate their feelings. It is also used in other older patients who may have conditions that challenge their ability to communicate with caregivers.

  • Preschool (3-5): if they are old enough to draw, have them draw how they feel. Use toys, dolls, or stuffed animals to have the child act out their feelings. Use the FLACC or FACES pain scale depending on their ability to communicate their feelings.

    This scale is appropriate for children who can communicate using pictures, usually up to about age 10.

    This scale is appropriate for children who can communicate using pictures, usually up to about age 10.

  • Elementary school age (6-10): Continue to use drawing and acting as needed. You can start to give suggestions of metaphors to describe the pain. Example: have the child stretch a non-painful body part & feel the sensation of “muscle stretch.” Ask them if the pain feels like that (stretch, pull sensation). Most children at this age know of bruises and cuts (dull, sharp), so you can ask them if it feels like that. Older elementary school kids have a better understanding of muscle soreness, so you can ask if the pain is reminiscent of how they feel after a hard day in PE when their legs may be tired (soreness, throbbing). It’s still important to let them use their own words. The FACES scale is most appropriate for this age group, even up to age 10.
  • Middle school (11-14): Believe it or not, ‘tweens and teens in this age group sometimes have the hardest time describing their pain. They are transitioning from “kid role” into more “teen & adult” roles, which often leads to confusion they don’t even know they’re experiencing. They are balancing the desire to please adults with the desire to gain independence, test limits and rules with adults. Anxiety normally increases with puberty, middle school social pressures, and a rapid developing brain and emotional regulation system. Plus kids are often rapidly growing while participating seriously in one or more sports. It’s a perfect storm—and all of these things often lead to increased pain, injuries, and problems in this age group. Be very gentle when communicating with ‘tweens and teens. The numeric pain rating scale is appropriate but it’s important to understand that kids in this age group may report pain differently depending on where they are emotionally, cognitively, hormonally, and socially.
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  • High school & College (14-22): You thought young kids and middle school were challenging to understand pain? Welcome to adolescence and early adulthood! While teens and young twentysomethings are much more capable of complex thought processes and may have more experience with pain, they still may not be very adept at processing on how to communicate their symptoms with someone else. We also strike a dichotomy where many adolescents continue to aim to please adults, while others want nothing to do with adults. You know that teen—the one who thinks they know way more than you because they took high school anatomy and are chemistry whizzes. Or you have the teen (usually girl) who is unable or afraid to appear knowledgeable about her body. See my blog on this very subject here. She’s in 7 AP classes and aced the SAT, but has spent so much time becoming book smart that she has developed zero body awareness. She literally cannot tell you what is wrong with her, just that “it hurts, and I don’t know why.” You can talk calculus with her with ease, but getting info from her about her body is like pulling teeth. The numeric pain rating scale is appropriate for this age group, but bear in mind you’ll also have the teen/young adult who swears the pain is a 10/10 while maintaining a smile and seeming relatively at ease. See what I mean about not being able to communicate or understand pain?
  • When in doubt, have them use an emoji, since this is becoming the new language of kids, 'tweens, and teens!

    When all else fails, have your child, ‘tween, or teen communicate with emojis since this is probably their new favorite language.

Keep your game face on

Do not—-I repeat—-do NOT project your own fear and feelings about your child’s or your friend’s child’s pain onto him or her. This may be the hardest part, because I know this is not easy on you, either. Keep calm, maintain your game face, be objective and matter of fact, and help him or her exercise his or her own independence. This doesn’t mean you should avoid showing compassion or caring. Let him or her know that you’re concerned and will do whatever it takes to help him or her through it. This also doesn’t mean it’s not ok to be worried. This is normal and natural for you! Worry and cry about it in the comfort of your own private space.

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Leave the doctoring to the doctors

Stop it with consulting Dr. Google or posting on facebook about it already. This only adds to overdramatizing something that may or may not be dramatic. Consult a medical professional!

Emergencies are emergencies and cannot wait

If it’s clearly deformed, the skin is open and bleeding/oozing, the child or teen cannot put weight on the body part, it appears infected, or your inner voice says “something just doesn’t seem right”-please consult urgent or emergency care! See more on this in Part 3 (coming soon!).

Sometimes there is just not a straightforward diagnosis

If it has been ongoing for a long time, the child or teen has had every test in the book, and there’s still no medical answer, consider the role of your child’s perception of the situation along with his or her emotional processing. It is exhausting and confusing for him or her to go through the rigmarole of myriad tests and physician visits. Cut your losses and consider consulting a functional/integrative medicine practitioner, pediatric pain psychologist, or physical therapist who specializes in chronic pain in kids and teens. Chances are, your child or teen is so burnt out on medical visits that he or she has now integrated a “sick” personality: seemingly more depressed, detached, disinterested in normal age activities, less successful at school and sports. He or she subconsciously realizes the attention they get from being “sick” or “broken” and this becomes part of who they are. Trust me on this one!

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Keep it kid and teen specific, no matter what age they are

Remember that kids, ‘tweens, teens and young adults process pain very differently than you do, as do their developing bodies. Not all adult treatments that may work for you are appropriate for them, even when you swear by them. Let a medical professional, particularly a physical therapist who specializes in pediatric and adolescent injuries, pain, and psychology, make the decision for you on who or what to consult to help your child. Just because Johnny is 18 does not mean he is ready for an adult practitioner. Honor and consider that as you navigate his care.

Let someone else play quarterback

Let a medical professional skilled in dealing with acute pain and ongoing/chronic issues sort through this one and manage all the specialists and/or therapists you may need to see. It’s hard enough to be a rock star parent and it can really wear on you to try and be the manager of your child’s or teen’s health. Let the professionals play “quarterback” to manage the child or teen’s case. Most importantly and often not discussed-consider speaking with a family therapist or life coach to help you cope. It is completely natural, normal, and expected for it to hurt or stress you when you have to put on your smile/game face when your child or teen is suffering. Don’t be a hero—get help for yourself too. There is no shame in doing so and it’ll really pay off in the long run!

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Have resources nearby to help them understand and cope with their bodies

Stay tuned for a future post on helpful books and websites for all youth injuries, conditions, and pains. See Part 1 for examples of 2 books that are appropriate for parents of kids of all ages and middle school age and up. Some other helpful titles are Look Inside Your Body (Louie Stowell/Usborne books) , Magic School Bus: Inside Your Body (Joanna Cole), Understanding Myself (Mary C Lamia, Ph.D.), Sammy’s Physical Therapy Adventure (Michael Fink, PT, DPT), and the Be the Boss of Your Body Series (Be the Boss of Your Pain, Be the Boss of Your Stress, Be Fit, Be Strong Be You (Rebecca Kajander CPNP, MPH and Timothy Culbert, MD)

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Now that you know exactly how to communicate with your child or teen about his or her pain, you’re ready to take the steps to get him or her the right care depending on what is the problem. See Part 3 to understand the problem and determine where best to seek the appropriate care.

Disclaimer:

In an effort to conserve each person’s personal experience and beliefs about how to care for and deal with pain, I offer a bit of advice from the pediatric & adolescent healthcare provider’s perspective. It should be noted that I am not a parent nor do I fully understand all of the complexities and intricacies that go on in each family. Ultimately, how you discuss pain and teach your children and teens to deal with pain is a matter of choice and fully depends on each situation you encounter.

6 Reasons Why the Diaphragm may be the Coolest Muscle in the Body

What if I told you that there is a muscle in your body that is key to giving you good posture and participates in weight lifting between 17,000 and 25,000 times per day? What if I told you it does this without you even knowing it? What muscle do you think that is? Hint: it’s not a heart muscle.
Stumped yet? Check out this great blog by my colleague Jessica Reale to find out the answer. Young athletes of all ages and backgrounds need to learn from a young age the importance of this muscle.

Jessica Reale, PT, DPT, WCS

I have a small confession to make– I love the study of human anatomy. Always have. It was studying human anatomy and physiology that made me shift my undergraduate degree at Gordon College away from “Biology” and into “Movement Science” (which has now become “Kinesiology”… Who would have known that years later, “Movement Science” would have been the coolest name for a major ever? Am I right fellow PTs?). The human body is fascinating and incredible. So, it should come as no shock to you that I have favorite muscles. In PT school, my favorite muscles were the ones with the most fun names… like the Gemelli brothers (who are small hip external rotators) or Sartorius (a thigh muscle…best, if sung to the tune of “Notorious“). Of course, you know that now the pelvic floor muscle group ranks pretty high on that list…but the diaphragm, well… it just takes…

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Pilates: Not Just for Grown-Ups

“Hey, do you know of any places where my daughter can do Pilates after she is finished with PT?”

“Should my 6 year old do Pilates classes?”

“She has a stress fracture in her back and the doctor said she needs to strengthen her core. I heard Pilates is good for that so I bought her a DVD. Is that ok?”

“I need to do Pilates as conditioning for dance. What should I do?”

I get these questions all the time from parents and young patients. My answer to them has often been “Well it depends.” That is, until recently!

One month ago I had the absolute joy of attending the Pilates Method Alliance® Pilates 4 Youth teacher training in Berkeley, California. What a fabulous 2-day course in the most beautiful setting with the most interesting and brilliantly creative minds!!! It was perhaps one of the most inspiring courses I have taken in my entire PT and Pilates career thus far. It helped that we had a nice view of the San Francisco Bay, San Francisco, the fog, and the Golden Gate Bridge the whole time. I called it my #nerdcation.

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Claremont Hotel & Spa in Berkeley.

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I’m not sure if I spent more time learning or more time gazing out the window from my seat

The course was full of 60 or so instructors from all over the USA and the world who work with children and adolescents in all different settings: schools, clubs and camps, inner city wellness initiatives, health care/PT clinics and private practices, girl scout troops, and private Pilates studios.

The course was led by Celeste Zopich, Brett Howard, and Dawn-Marie Ickes, who co-authored the course manual and textbook Pilates for Children and Adolescents. These three brilliantly creative master teachers spearheaded the Pilates in the Schools movement, an initiative begun in the early 2000’s in the wake of decreased physical education time in public and private schools. You can read more about Pilates in the Schools and the research project they did with the kids here.

Watch a video about Pilates 4 Youth & Pilates in the Schools here:

I can’t say enough good things about the instructors. Celeste has a wealth of experience teaching in a parochial school. Brett teaches classes for children of all ages and brought a wealth of research and creative cueing and activity design perspective to the group. Dawn-Marie, the PT & Pilates teacher of the book, seems to be leading a life rather parallel to mine on the west coast. She works not only with young clients and incorporates Pilates into PT with them, but also has a special interest in women’s health and is a Redcord Neurac teacher trainer. I can’t wait to continue following these three as the Pilates 4 Youth initiative continues to take off.

See interviews from the book’s authors & course instructors here:

Too often children (especially girls) drop out of sports by age 13 due to burn out from early specialization, self esteem and body image issues, lack of success and fear of failure, or lack of funding from parents or other guardians. Or—on the other hand, children do not become active in the first place for so many cultural and societal reasons (that I don’t have time to discuss in this blog post) and we have even bigger problems of childhood obesity, low self esteem and body awareness, and low exercise interest or confidence.

Perhaps most interestingly, the course taught us about the “magic window” age of 9-13. This is when kids and teens are at the most vulnerable for both physical and psychological injury. The mind-body approach of Pilates targets these problems in a very kid & teen-friendly way. This is the best stage to intervene from an injury prevention standpoint in PT, too.

Favorite video quote from videos above (from a 13ish year old):

“Well I’m a swimmer and doing regular Pilates has helped me a lot with having regular breathing and opening up my shoulders and using my back muscles to move my arms.”

If that quote doesn’t sum up my personal and professional vision for helping my most beloved target clientele, I don’t know what does.

In the course, we learned how to design classes or private sessions for children of all ages and ability levels, from 5-6 year old girl scouts to 18 year old elite Olympians,. We had a great segment taught by Dawn-Marie on program design for children with special needs, or “special opportunities” as she liked to call it. She reminded us that all children and teens have challenges that vary on a long, diverse scale, regardless of the diagnosis or “category” in which they are placed. For youth of all ages and ability levels, it is our duty to determine how best to tap into each of their movement systems, regardless of the challenges and opportunities they face each day.

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Superhero themed Pilates! It’s not hard work when you’re having fun while learning! I bet I know a few adults who would probably want to come to a class like this one…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pilates 4 Youth initiative is in a pretty grassroots stage now. So far the course has been put on twice to a total of about 150 people thanks to a grant from a generous donor. Hopefully it will continue to grow in popularity so that we can improve access for children of all ages to Pilates in a non-competitive environment. But we’re not exclusive to Pilates. And we are all over social media!

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#hashtags are everywhere Follow the PMA on twitter at @PMATWEETER

Stay tuned! I’ve already been incorporating Pilates into my clinical practice for several years, but I’m anxious to start incorporating many of the new concepts I learned into practice and hopefully into group classes in the community soon. I’m excited to exercise my creative juices and have already invested in some fun tools to help me do so:

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That’s a scooter board

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Fabulous imagery and kid-friendly Pilates terms

To learn more about the Pilates 4 Youth initiative, check out the information on facebook.

“First, educate the child.”

Joseph Pilates

Movement is medicine for low back pain

 

Just ran across this great whiteboard video from an NPR post about low back pain. It’s a video by a Canadian primary care physician. It’s the best patient-friendly explanation I’ve seen of low back pain, what to know, and what to do about it.

While low back pain in the young athlete is not always the same as in adults and there are other kid- and teen-specific diagnoses AND PT treatments to consider, I still find this video very helpful for all ages. Though there are some very rare reasons they may have it, kids and teens almost never have problems like neurogenic claudication due to spinal column narrowing mentioned in the video. Discogenic pain is also more rare in kids and teens..

Given that low back pain is one of my favorite conditions to treat, particularly in the young athlete, I’d say this video hit the nail on the head for the most part. I love the physiotherapy, manual therapy, and Pilates shout-outs in the video.  It’s important before beginning something like Pilates or yoga that you start slowly and ensure that your instructor is familiar with how to help people with injuries. In addition, if you are a kid or a teen, it’s important that the instructor is skilled in working with children and adolescents as there are special precautions that must be made in Pilates and yoga due to differences present in the growing spine vs. the adult spine. Typically what I do, as a Pilates instructor and PT, is teach kids the right movements they would need to know for Pilates, then find them the right Pilates instructor or class.

You can skip the ad at the beginning, but I also love the Neurac and WebPT advertisements at the start of the video. Between Pilates, Neurac, and WebPT, I use all of these things in my daily practice (in full disclosure: nobody paid me to say that).

The best 3 lines:

“Motion is lotion”

“A physiotherapist can probably help you with all of these things” 

“Movement is medicine.”

Enjoy!