Headaches, fatigue tied to kids’ unexplained pain
Children who often suffer headaches or daytime drowsiness may be at heightened risk of developing unexplained body aches and pains, a study has found.
Researchers found that of more than 1,000 children they followed for one year, those who said they had weekly headaches or bouts of sleepiness were more likely to develop “non-traumatic” pain in their muscles or joints.
No one knows exactly why some children suffer non-traumatic pain, which refers to pain not caused by a specific injury, like an ankle sprain or strained muscle. However, psychological factors do play a role, according to Dr. Ashraf El-Metwally, the lead author of the new study.
Both frequent headaches and daytime tiredness can be psychosomatic—that is, brought on by psychological distress—and in this study, both were risk factors for the development of unexplained bodily pain.
The findings suggest that by asking children just a few questions about psychosomatic symptoms, doctors can spot those at risk of developing non-traumatic pain, explained El-Metwally, a researcher at the University of Aberdeen in the UK.
More importantly, they can then try to find out why these children are feeling distressed, and help them with ways to deal with their problems, El-Metwally told Reuters Health.
He and his colleagues report the findings in the online journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.
The study included 1,113 children who were free of muscle and joint pain at the outset, when they were 11 years old, on average. At the beginning of the study, the children reported on any psychosomatic symptoms—including headaches, daytime sleepiness, stomachaches and sleep problems—that they’d suffered at least weekly for the past three months.
They also described their exercise habits and underwent tests of their joint flexibility, as “hypermobile” joints may be more susceptible to pain.
One year later, one-fifth of the children said they’d been suffering bodily pain at least weekly for the past three months. In most cases, the pain was non-traumatic.
Among these children, El-Metwally’s team found, only frequent headaches and daytime fatigue emerged as strong risk factors for subsequent bodily pain. Vigorous exercise was not a factor.
In contrast, and not surprisingly, children who exercised heavily were more likely to report pain from a traumatic injury.
Like doctors, El-Metwally said, parents should be on the lookout for psychosomatic symptoms, and ask their children about any stress that may be causing their physical complaints.
Just talking to children about their day-to-day stresses and showing them “caring and warmth,” he noted, may help ease their distress.
SOURCE: BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, online May 23, 2007.
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