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Spring 2005

Mind/Body Approach Applied to Chronic Pain in Children

“All pain—from belly aches to cancer pain—has a physical and emotional component,” stresses Lonnie Zeltzer, M.D., director of the Pediatric Pain Program at Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA, and author of Conquering Your Child’s Chronic Pain: A Pediatrician’s Guide for Reclaiming a Normal Childhood. “A third of our nation’s children suffer from pain severe enough to interfere with school, athletic and social activities.”

Often, nerve signals in these children are intensified, causing them to feel pain in situations where others may not. “In children with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), for example, the nerve signals between the brain and intestines are out of balance. It’s as if someone has turned up the volume of the nerve signals in the intestinal tract so that even normal digestive contractions can be felt as pain,” Dr. Zeltzer explains.

“Certain children are more susceptible to developing chronic pain; these children are often smart, do well in school, and are driven perfectionists. Their whole nervous system is wound a little more tightly,” she notes.

Once other treatable conditions are ruled out, UCLA’s treatment plan aims to get the pain system back in balance. It may include any combination of massage therapy, Iyengar yoga, mindfulness meditation, acupuncture, pain-specific physical therapy, art therapy, hypnotherapy, biofeedback, and energy therapy, as well as medications, psychotherapy and family therapy, when needed.

“Research using modern imaging techniques have actually helped us learn ‘where in the brain is pain.’ We now know that mindrelated interventions like meditation and hypnosis can actually change the biology of our pain system,” says Dr. Zeltzer. “It’s amazing how quickly the child improves once parents understand why their child is experiencing pain and what they can do to help their child.”

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