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Pain Control During Your Hospital Stay

Being prepared helps put you and your child in control

Pain is an uncomfortable feeling that tells you something may be wrong in your body. When there is an injury to your body, nerve cells communicate the pain to the brain through signals sent through the spinal cord. Pain medicine works to block these signals, reducing pain. After your child’s surgery or treatment, the nurses and doctors will ask you and your child about the pain they feel because they want your child to be comfortable. Pain can often be prevented, reduced or controlled by using non-medicine techniques like deep breathing, calming environments, distraction, positioning, application of heat or cold, or picturing calming images in one’s mind. Medicine is also often used to prevent, reduce or control pain. Used together, these techniques and medicine can help your child have less pain.

Ask the doctor or nurse what to expect.

  • Will there be much pain after the surgery or treatment?
  • Where will the pain be?
  • How long is the pain likely to last?
  • How will the pain be controlled?
  • Can we practice some techniques to prevent or reduce the pain?

Discuss pain control options.

  • Tell the doctor or nurse what has worked for your child in the past and what has not worked in the past.
  • Ask about possible side effects which may occur with pain medicine.
  • Tell the doctor or nurse about your concerns.
  • Ask the nurse about non-medicine options to decrease your child’s pain. These include rocking and holding your child, hot or cold packs, low lights and calming music, stories or videos to distract your child and techniques to help your child relax.
  • Ask about our Child Life Specialists and how they can help manage your child’s pain

Help the doctors and nurses measure the pain.

A staff member may ask your child to rate the pain on a scale of 0 to 10. A score of 0 means “no pain” and 10 means the “worst pain.” Instead of the 0-10 scale, the staff may ask your child to choose a face from the “Faces Scale” that best describes the pain. You may need to help your child with these ratings. Sometimes other ways are used to measure pain. Your nurse or child life specialist may help you find another special way to measure the pain if these scales are not helpful.

If your child is an infant or young toddler, or is unable to tell us about his pain score, the doctors and nurses will look for other signals of pain. These include crying, grimacing/frowning, thrashing, stiff arms and legs, and increased heart rate or blood pressure.

It may be helpful to have your child set a comfort goal, or a score, or face, they can tolerate comfortably. It may not be realistic for the goal to be zero pain, but together we can determine what level of pain is manageable for your child. Some children do not always show obvious signs of pain, especially children who have learned to live with chronic pain. Be sure to discuss your thoughts about your child’s comfort level with the doctors and nurses. A still or active/playful child may not be pain-free. As the parent, you can let us know what you think is working and what else may be helpful. Your input is important, so we can adjust our plan as needed.

What you should know about pain medicines

There are many types of medicines to help relieve your child’s pain. Different types of pain may need different types of medicines. Be sure to ask your doctor and nurse about which pain medicines your child can have and how often.

  • If pain is inevitable, as in surgery or a procedure that is invasive, the pain should be prevented when possible. Otherwise, something should be done about the pain as soon as it starts. This is a key step in pain control. It is more difficult to ease pain once it has become established.
  • The nurses may ask your child to take pain medicine at set times for the first 24 hours after surgery. Our goal is to keep the pain away or minimize pain.
  • Pain medication can be given by mouth (pill or liquid), in the rectum (suppository) or in the muscle (shot). The nurses will try to avoid giving pain medicine in the muscle to avoid further discomfort.
  • Medicine for more severe pain may be given into the bloodstream intravenously (IV) through a tiny tube that goes into a vein. These IV medicines can be given at a steady rate, continually, through a pump or as needed with a syringe into the tube.
  • Sometimes caudal blocks or epidural blocks are used to numb the painful area for a while. The medicine is given into spaces between the bones in the spine by a doctor and wears off later after surgery. Other medicines are given once the block has worn off.
  • There are many types of pain medicines used for pain and pain-related symptoms. Ask your nurse for more information about the medicines your child receives, how they work and how they are given.

Concerns about medicines

Sometimes parents and even older kids worry about taking opioids (narcotics) like morphine because they are afraid they may become addicted or learn to rely on medications. Doses are carefully calculated based on your child’s weight. Usually opioids are only needed for a short while. These medicines help your child feel comfortable so he can eat, move around and heal faster. Not treating the pain can slow healing if your child becomes anxious, angry, unusually quiet, and is unable to sleep/rest or refuses to walk or eat. If your child is on an opioid for a long time (many days or weeks) the doses can be lowered or weaned slowly. Your doctor can discuss this with you further.

Final thoughts

If you want more information about helping to control your child’s pain, please ask your doctor or nurse. Both your input and your child’s input are important to us. Only your child knows how much pain he or she is feeling. Parents and family members know their child better than anyone. Together we can help ease what hurts.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 06/2018

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