Understanding Pain

Children sometimes experience some kind of pain when they're in the hospital or visiting a clinic. How much pain your child has will depend on his/her condition and treatment. We are committed to understanding your child's pain and working with you and your child to make your child as comfortable as possible.

What is pain?

Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience normally associated with tissue damage or described in terms of such damage. Pain can make it difficult to eat, rest, and sleep. If not well controlled, pain can delay healing by interfering with normal body functions. For example, pain may increase blood pressure, heart rate, and lower the amount of oxygen in the blood.

How do you know when your child is in pain?

Your child may act differently from normal when he or she is hurting. He or she may cry, make faces, or move his or her body in a certain way. Your child might also be very quiet and still because he or she is afraid of moving or does not have enough energy to show you how much pain he or she has. All children are different in how they respond to pain and how much pain they can handle. Something that might hurt one child a lot might not hurt very much to another child. It may be helpful to ask yourself how your child has responded to pain in the past.

How will my child's doctors and nurses know how much pain my child is having?

Your child's nurses and doctors will regularly ask your child where it hurts and how much it hurts using one of the methods listed below. You can also use these methods to measure your child's pain and help your child report his/her pain to the medical team.

For Infants and Toddlers and Other Non-Verbal Children

We will measure your child's pain based on his/her movements, behavior, and vital signs using a well validated measure of pain.

For Children about 3 to 7

We will ask him/her to point to one of the faces on this scale to describe how much pain he/she has.

For Children about Ages 7 and Older

If your child can understand numbers, we will ask him/her to rate his/her pain on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means no pain, and 10 means the worst pain imaginable.

Tips on how to work together with your child's doctors and nurses

  • Be sure to tell your child's doctors and nurses when and where your child is having pain, and encourage your child to do the same.
  • Be sure to talk with your child's doctors and nurses and ask them questions. Some things you should ask are:
    • How much pain should my child expect and for how long?
    • What kind of treatment will you give my child to relieve pain?
    • When are the different kinds of pain treatment most appropriate?
    • Is there anything you can do to make a procedure less painful? 
  • Ask for pain relief when pain first begins - it is better to control pain earlier rather than later.
  • Understand how your child's doctors and nurses measure pain.
  • Tell your child's doctors and nurses about your child's previous experience with pain. 

How will my child's doctors and nurse treat pain?

Your child's doctor and nurses can work with you and your child to find the best way to help your child's pain, whether it is with medication, non-drug treatments, or both. If your child receives pain medication, your child's doctor will choose the kind and amount of medication that is best for your child's pain and condition. It is important to know that pain can be safely and effectively controlled and that very, very few patients develop addiction to pain medication. It is important to treat pain earlier rather than later because pain may be more difficult to treat if it becomes severe.

Things you can do to help your child handle pain

You are the best person to help your child handle pain. With your help, your child might do better than you would have expected! We encourage you to try several of these approaches to find out what works best for you and your child.

  • Bring music and other things from home, such as a favorite toy or blanket, to comfort your child. 
  • Talk in a soothing manner to your child.
  • Stroke or massage your child's face, arms, feet, or any other parts of his or her body.
  • Rock, hold or carry your child if possible.
  • If your child is an infant, give your child something to suck on, such as a pacifier.
  • Distract your child with play or games.
  • Help your child find a more comfortable position. 

Additional Resources to Help

  • Child Life specialists are people who can help your child prepare for painful procedures and cope with pain by providing medical play, activities, and distraction. Call (650) 497-8336.
  • The Pain Management Service can provide many different kinds of treatments for pain. Talk to your doctor about whether your child needs to be seen by the Pain Management Service.
  • The Family Resource Center located on the ground floor of the Main Building has many helpful resources on pain, including books, relaxation tapes, music, and movies that you can check out. Call (650) 721-0874.