Pain control study in children with cerebral palsy encourages pediatricians to treat cause not symptoms

July 16, 2013

More than 25 percent of children with cerebral palsy endure chronic pain that limits their activity, despite their care being overseen by physicians, according to a new study in Pediatrics led by NeuroDevNet's Dr. Darcy Fehlings.

Dr. Fehlings, co-lead of the network's cerebral palsy (CP) research group, conducted the study at Holland Bloorview, where she is physician director of the Child Development Program.

"This study clearly illustrates the extent to which children with CP experience chronic pain," said Dr.  Fehlings, who leads the Cerebral Palsy Discovery Lab at the Bloorview Research Institute. CP is the most common neurodevelopmental physical disability, occurring in 2 – 2.5 out of every 1000 live births in developed countries.

Dr. Fehlings and her colleagues aimed to better understand the prevalence and impact of pain on children and youth with CP in the study, which systematically tracked the physician-diagnosed cause of pain, and found that hip pain and increased muscle tone were the most common causes of activity-limiting discomfort for children and youth. "With this knowledge" said  Dr. Fehlings, "pediatricians need to be focused on accurately assessing and managing the root cause of this pain."

"This study has underlined the importance of asking every child with CP about their pain levels," added Dr. Melanie Penner, a Fellow in Developmental Pediatrics at Holland Bloorview working with Dr. Fehlings. "This can sometimes pose a challenge for children with communication limitations, which makes a systematic pain assessment plan crucial."

Read Dr. Fehlings' publication, "Characteristics of Pain in Children and Youth With Cerebral Palsy", on the Pediatrics website.

Written with material from a press release prepared by Holland Bloorview.

Penner, W. Xie, W.Y., Binepal, N., Switzer, L.,  and Fehlings, D. Pediatrics; originally published online July 15, 2013;
DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-0224