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Managing Chronic Pain

By Judy Loseff Lavin, M.S.W.
Author of Special Kids Need Special Parents

Managing chronic pain is often a large part of being a special parent. Many kids with special needs suffer from pain on a regular basis and unfortunately, while treatments are improving annually, there is still a lot of work to be done in the area.

Interestingly, pain is not just what we feel physically—it is multifaceted. While it is physically felt, there is also often a psychological component to it. That means, it can be difficult to tease out how much of the pain is physical and how much is psychological. In any event, pain affects the entire person and in this case, it also affects his or her parents who are trying to control the symptoms and help their child. In short, pain interrupts daily living.

One of the most helpful institutions I’ve encountered in my journeys is the pain clinic. Most urban hospitals contain clinics that specialize in treating pain. A pain clinic is usually tied into the anesthesiology department. Some hospitals, such as Boston Children’s Hospital, in Massachusetts, have their own independent pain department within the facility.

These pain centers do more than prescribe a couple of Advils or Tylenol 3. They have new and often unique methods for dealing and living with chronic pain. Sometimes, as in my daughter’s case, the doctor will give the child a nerve block to numb the area so that he or she can work with a physical or occupational therapist to keep his muscles from atrophying. Pain can cause some muscles to tighten and spasm preventing their use and in the longer term causing muscle atrophy. A nerve block numbs the area so that the child can again use his muscles, work through the pain and keep the muscle from shriveling.

Another technique that doctors and therapists use is biofeedback. Learning and using a variety of relaxation techniques will sometimes help a child cope with his symptoms. In some instances, the pain is stopped altogether and the child can quickly get back to his routine. In six to eight sessions, nurses, physical therapists and others trained in behavioral sciences can teach a child to relax. For the child who is motivated to succeed, these techniques can be enormously helpful and not invasive in any way.

Low-doses of certain anti-depressants can work extremely well to reduce or eliminate chronic pain, too. Miniscule doses of medicines, such as Nortriptyline and Elavil will target nerve endings and block pain. Anti-convulsant drugs and opiods, which are morphine type medications, will also control pain. These drugs work to stabilize nerves so they don’t keep sending pain messages to the brain thus breaking the pain cycle.

Feldenkris, a type of physical therapy, is actually, the newcomer to the pain field but many who’s used it claim that it has helped them improve their range of motion, posture or completely eliminate sore spots in their bodies. This is another treatment that one can inquire about at a pain clinic and if they don’t have a Feldenkris practioner on hand, they may be able to direct you to someone in your area.

Currently, there is a lot of research being done in the pain field. The hope is that in the near future doctors will be able to control chronic discomfort so that each person, regardless of his condition, will be able to live an active, full life.

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Judith Lavin, M.S.W., author of Special Kids Need Special Parents, and a former journalist with the Chicago Sun-Times, recognized the need for an easy-to-read resource for physically and emotionally exhausted parents like herself, as well as their families, teachers, doctors and others who work with them. Lavin speaks to numerous organizations and parent groups around the nation, giving them inspiration and hope.

Lavin’s work has been featured in numerous publications such as the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Newsday, Washington Parent and Chicago Parent. In addition, she has appeared  on radio and TV news and talk shows around the U.S., including NBC-TV's Today show, PBS-TV's Small Talk for Parents and the CBS Radio Networks. You can visit Judy at